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Community Based Learning

March 19, 2017

Outside of the traditional classroom experience, this semester I am taking a half credit that is tied to my sophomore scholars in residence (SSIR) program and categorized as what we here at UR call “Community Based Learning.” All of the SSIRs take on a capstone project of sorts in the spring following a semester of seminar-style classes and a big trip, and for Reading to Live, our project is to work on a literacy-based volunteering project. In simple terms, I spend a few hours each week at Overby-Sheppard, an elementary school in the northside of Richmond. Every Monday afternoon, I make my way over to go help Ms Stafford’s second grade class with reading stations that usually involve reading some type of story or passage and then writing a bit of analysis about it.

I am so grateful that my SSIR finally pushed me to get more involved in the community, because I had been thinking about trying to find a role tutoring or working with youth since freshman year and just never prioritized finding a good time to jump in and go for it. Honestly, that’s a shame and a huge regret because it’s really, really easy to get organized! We are so fortunate here to have an office called the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) that helps students find ways to get involved in Richmond in all kinds of different capacities. I went one afternoon and they signed me up in no time--they give you all of the training you need, work within your class schedule, and even provide transportation to and from the service site!

We took a tour of the different sites we could choose from earlier in the fall and I decided on Overby-Sheppard for a number of different reasons. From a practical standpoint, I could go during the day which was helpful because I’m involved with extracurriculars almost every evening. More importantly, though, I was driven to work with younger kids because I believe that that’s when you can have the biggest impact. In a completely non-egotistical way, I wanted to have a better chance at being able to inspire the kids to grow their love of reading and language and get interested in school. Going in, we all completed research geared towards the projects we would be fulfilling in the spring, and I actually did find that short-term volunteering such as I would be doing honestly has a limited scope in the overall benefits it can provide for an individual student. Basically, me working with a classroom of 20 kids for maybe 20 hours over the whole semester wouldn’t be life changing for any of them. Based on these findings and some of the analysis in the article that I’d found, I concluded that the way I could have the most significant impact would be to help demonstrate that school is fun and interesting, and students should feel comfortable working with teachers and authority figures with questions they have regarding their studies.

On the first day after going through orientation, I went in with the attitude that I was just going to be optimistic and encouraging and it would be all fun and games. If only it were that easy. As I’ve spent more and more time in the classroom, I’ve come to notice that it is extremely difficult to have any degree of control over a room full of young, bright, energetic eight year olds. If I try to get them to read something together, it seems like everyone wants to read out loud at the same time and yet, when it comes to writing, talking among themselves seems so much more appealing! I try to be as much of a helping hand as possible to Ms. Stafford, and I really am confident that things aren’t worse off as a result of me being there, but I don’t know how big of a help I’m being. Recently, I’ve taken to just working closely with the students that seem especially motivated to do their work and because all of the kids really just adore getting attention, I think that motivates them to focus knowing that’s what really pulls me in to talk more and more with them. The environment as a whole is so warm and welcoming; each time I walk into the room I’m met with smiles and hugs and invitations to sit down or play a game. Regardless of whether I’ve had a super positive influence on any of the youth, I know that this experience has been powerful for me. First of all, it’s a reminder of just how wonderful, clever, and interesting youngins are. As the youngest child in my family and someone who doesn’t babysit nearly as much as she used to, volunteering creates a paradoxical combination of feeling charged by the unremitting energy and drained by the constant efforts of keeping track of everyone’s actions and ideas! Following that note, it gives me mad respect for elementary school teachers everywhere who have the ability to do this type of work day in and day out, really just so inspiring. Last but not least, it’s reminded me of the importance of getting involved in the community, because even if I just have the slightest impact on a single kid, that’s enough. From my own self-interest, it feels good to be volunteering, especially since Richmond is my hometown and has provided me with so much for so long.

Greetings future Spiders! My name is Ellie, I'm 20 years old and born and bred in Richmond, Virginia. I'm a serious student and die-hard member of the Richmond Red Hots, the womens club ultimate frisbee team here. In my precious free time I enjoy jogging, reading anything, and afternoon naps. Other hobbies are traveling, hiking, and pretending to be a foodie. Some of my preferences include black coffee, Saturday morning farmers markets, and music in foreign languages that I do not know. My academic interests are broad and constantly changing, however, as of now, my majors are Political Science and French. My two most ambiguous and most descriptive qualities are wanderlust and indecision.

Over the course of the year, some of my goals as a Spider Diarist include exposing little-known or underappreciated things on campus and around Richmond, giving a thorough review/copious list of suggestions for food and coffee in campus and around Richmond, and portraying a genuine first year experience here at UR in terms of campus culture, everyday life, and landmark events. Tag along as I rediscover Richmond from the point of view as a college student in my hometown. I'm so proud of the RVA and always excited to show off the wealth of things it has to offer to out-of-town friends as well as this blog's prospective student readership!

Why UR?

I am utterly, absolutely, and almost vehemently undecided about what exactly (or for that matter, vaguely) I want to do with my life. But hey, that's why I chose a liberal arts college. Even within that vein, though, there are a lot of liberal arts colleges out there, so back to "Why UR?" The University of Richmond is small enough to allow for intimate class sizes, in-depth peer-to-peer interactions, and strong relationships with professors.  At the same time, it is large enough to attract a student body with diverse ideas and backgrounds who all contribute different perspectives and ideas within the classroom environment and campus community. Richmond provides an indisputably spectacular academic experience, but the opportunities that the University offers to all of it's students are what really sold me. From volunteer positions and internships to research jobs and study abroad trips, the level of quality and personal attention that Richmond provides is unmatched. My crazy love with Richmond, the city, aside, UR is unique in (atleast) one more way: out of all of the colleges that I toured, I never went to one place more cheerful, comfortable, or welcoming. Come see for yourself! (WARNING: This blurb is abbreviated, see first post for details.)