Great Cities program teaches service learning through Spanish

April 8, 2009 | Features
By Kim Goodin

“Me llamo Jacob,” the student said. “Estudio ciencias políticas.”

“Me llamo es Margarita,” said another. “Yo estudio… How do you say ‘psychology?’”

“Psicología,” Kimberlie Colson, lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages, replied.

Kimberlie Colson teaches Review of Elementary Spanish to UT and Woodward High School students in Memorial Field House.

Kimberlie Colson teaches Review of Elementary Spanish to UT and Woodward High School students in Memorial Field House.

On it went, with students reciting their names and fields of study in Spanish that rolled easily off the tongues of some and sounded a bit labored for others. A few times, Colson cheerfully admonished, “¡Español!” as a reminder to speak only the language of the class.

It appeared to be just another day in Review of Elementary Spanish.

It was the first day of class, however, for 10 of the students who had come from Woodward High School. Many firsts have been achieved from the beginning of UT’s spring semester, as Colson’s class becomes the first foreign language component of a service-learning grant called the Great Cities and Great Service Project.

The project consists of several mini-grants in fields such as business technology, criminal justice, communication, engineering, English, and geography and urban planning. Each sub-project receives $5,000 for further development and implementation of service-learning courses that help fulfill identified community needs.

“We’re trying to create lasting partnerships among University communities and local schools systems,” said Dr. Sudershan Pasupuleti, associate professor of social work and the project leader. “These connections are part of the University’s overall vision for community engagement and enrichment.”

The grants are funded by the Office of the Provost on Main Campus, the Corporation for National and Community Service/Ohio Campus Compact, and Otterbein College.

Colson’s program also is funded by a $1,500 Individual Faculty Award from UT’s Office of Service Learning and Community Engagement. She lauded the support of colleagues in the Department of Foreign Languages, Woodward High School and numerous others in making the program engaging for all of the students.

Energetic by nature, Colson’s enthusiasm peaks when speaking of enfolding local students into the fabric of UT’s academic, social and cultural environments. By creating a connection between urban youth and the University community, Colson hopes to spark their dreams.

“Many of these kids are unaware of what college life is like,” Colson said of the high school students. “By exposing them to UT, we’re banking on the idea that they’ll choose the opportunity of education once they graduate from high school.”

Although UT students have attended class at Woodward High School, much of the program’s cultural component occurs on Main Campus. The high school students were encouraged to participate in two Spanish Coffee Hours (practicum) and have enjoyed practice in the target language, international snacks and coffees in a less-formal atmosphere. These types of activities also helped to connect the Woodward High School students to the entire UT campus community.

“The students have loved it,” Colson remarked. “This service-learning project has been truly a wonderful experience for our students. The other language students from Woodward High School who did not have a chance to participate this year have asked if they could participate in the program next year.”

As the pioneering course winds to its conclusion, the UT and Woodward pupils are busily planning a Cinco de Mayo celebration, recording their impressions of the project in journals, and, of course, perfecting their Spanish skills.

“We’re hoping this program will leave lasting impressions on both the Woodward students and our own college students,” Colson said. “We want this to be an agent for life change.”

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