Cores Emphasize Community Service

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Photo by Aidan O’Leary 

New program raises some concerns but provides needed assistance to disadvantaged communities 

By Ed Perkins

Antioch’s introduction of Core Learning Communities last reach revolutionized education within our institution. The core communities mix three disciplines with three professors, but focus on a common theme, and ideally, cores relate fields of study not ordinarily connected. Members of the faculty feel that these communities have been a terrific addition to the Antioch experience and give students an opportunity not found anywhere else. For the fall of 2006, these core communities added a new twist. American Identities, Sense of Place, and Cool are requiring students to complete community service within the greater community of the Dayton area.~~Most of these community service sites are located in urban areas, such as Dayton and Springfield, OH. They deal primarily with Appalachian, African-American, and Hispanic communities. Examples include the K-12 Gallery in Dayton, the Precious Gifts Daycare Center in Springfield and the Adelante tutoring program in New Carlyle.. Antioch has always been a leader in hands-on learning and learning by doing. The community service programs are another example of Antioch students’ interaction with the real world and real people.

The community service programs also allow students to practice for the Co-op programs which are central to Antioch’s style of education. By figuring out the logistics of getting to and from a job site, and learning how to deal with a new workplace, Antioch hopes to give students a preview of their Co-Op experience. Hopefully, students will be able to learn problem-solving skills that they can apply on Co-op. Jean Gregorek, one of the professors involved with the service programs, says that they will “bring the complexities and difficulties of cross-culture interactions home in a way reading can’t?.

Although the faculty has a lot of faith in the community service programs, problems persist. Logistically, some students will have a difficult time working out transportation to their sites. A student familiar with the Dayton/ Yellow Springs area who has an automobile will not have much difficulty getting to and from their service site. On the other hand, a student from out of state with no automobile will have to organize carpooling or other arrangements. While Antioch is supposed to coordinate such transport, there has been some confusion with doing so. Even with the schools help, organizing transportation seems to be an extra burden placed on students from out of state or a lower economic bracket who do not have the luxury of keeping an auto on campus. Professor Dennie Eagleson, one of the leading advocates of the service program, acknowledges that this might be a problem in an area with “no public transportation? and feels that the “logistics are difficult, but not impossible, to overcome.? It is also a problem that students without cars or money will face throughout life, and Antioch hopes that by forcing them to confront such problems, they will learn how to deal with them in the future.

Federal Work Study Programs, or FWSP, also put an additional burden on some students, depending on their economic background. Although some FWSP’s can also count towards community service, not all of them can. This means a student required by financial aid to do a FWSP will have less options than a student not required to. Some might say that all this puts students receiving less financial aid who own cars in an advantaged position. A student receiving more financial aid appears to have more logistical problems with their community service.

There persists the superficial concern of calling required service ‘community service’. It could be perceived as an incorrect characterization to call a student required to do community service a volunteer. This would seem to be a mild insult to someone who volunteers on their own, without a professor making them do so. Many people have full schedules and still volunteer out of the goodness of their heart, not to receive college credit.

In spite of these concerns, there are advantages to the community service program. Most of the sites in the program deal with disadvantaged communities. A host of them work with children or single mothers in these communities. These are people on the margins of our society, and sites doing their best to help them with limited funding and resources. While some might have issues with the program, few would doubt that the additional help is needed. Professor Eagleson said that one of the main goals of this program is to make students “understand what challenges these organizations face?.

The high education value of the community service experience provides another benefit to the program. A student could read all the books and pour over all the statistics about a particular group or community, but they amount to nothing without firsthand experience. It is also hollow to read about a problem without having witnessed its effects. Hopefully, students who have never lived within these communities will learn about their day-to-day lives. As Eagleson says, “We are not studying people from a distant academic place, but instead coming face to face with their reality.? The students will witness their problems, and how they cope with them. They may make lasting bonds to the community that will remain strong past their time at Antioch. Hopefully, they will become personally attached to the people and places they serve, and will feel emotionally tied to them. Therefore the students will have genuine concern for these communities. In this regard, the community service program will live up to Antioch’s commitment to make the world a better place.

Whenever an institution tries something new, there will be hopes as well as concerns. As this program progresses, it will be interesting to keep an eye on it. The Record plans on doing more articles about this in the future. They will be more focused on the specific sites, and the people working there, than on the program as a whole. Hopefully, these future articles will give us greater insight, and demonstrate first hand any problems or benefits that this program generates. In the past, Antioch has been referred to as a bubble. This program brings students outside that bubble, and in doing so some will bring the greater community back with them. After all, the planet is bigger than just Yellow Springs. As Dennie Eagleson says, “the world is our laboratory?