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Semester of Service, my Praxis Site

HannahB's picture

I’ve been in my placement this entire year at a special admit public high school in Philadelphia, which is great, as it has allowed me to watch and grow with the students in the two classes I work with. The school is highly-regarded, in Philadelphia and beyond, for its progressive, student-centered approach to teaching and learning. Specifically, I’ve been participating in two 9th grade African American history courses that have been covering an enormous amount of interesting material from present-day stereotypes of the African continent to the way cultural perceptions of race influenced and were influenced by laws relating to slavery to ways of making sense in and across societies.

This semester, my mentor teacher is using a special grant that she applied for and received to engage with her students in a special “Semester of Service.” The two classes are both in the process of learning, designing, and carrying out semester long service projects in the Philadelphia community and are striving to tie the work they do to Philadelphia history. I am extremely excited about this project because asset-based, meaningful service-learning is a big interest of mine and a great way, I think, for students to engage in conversations about race, class, privilege, and what it means to “help” people versus “collaborate and co-create” with them.

One of my favorite things that my mentor teacher has done, so far, is prompt students to be active researchers of the community—interviewing community members, conducting surveys, using the internet to research organizations that are doing similar work, etc. The hope is that students will work with the communities instead of imposing something on them and, to do this, they must first learn and actually converse with community members. The classes are also exploring questions of sustainability, impact, and how they can assess the efficacy of their service.

I, personally, hope to use this “Semester of Service” to expand my knowledge of how to connect authentic action with meaningful conversations about privilege and communities. A potential challenge, I see, is that one of the classes is already a bit dejected that “nothing is happening.” They want to start immediately, as so often community service is only about acting, not thinking and reflecting. I am eager to consider various ways to address this challenge and to prompt the students to be okay with taking time and space, so that they can learn first- then act.