OWL Talks

Working with Our Community: White Oak High School

Posted by Christian Biseinere on Dec 21, 2016 5:04:00 PM

Civic engagement classes involve students in community outreach and service learning as a primary part of the curriculum. In Professor Catherine Savini’s Honors civic engagement first-year composition course “Writing That Matters,” we chose different community-based writing projects.

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My group worked with students from White Oak High School for students with language-based learning disabilities. We partnered with White Oak English teacher Cameron Rodak, 2013 Westfield State and Honors Program alumnus, to do a weekly letter exchange with his students and share two combined classes, one at their school and one at Westfield State. Our goal was to give both classes the opportunity to write for a real audience while also giving the White Oak students an opportunity to learn more about college life while we learned more about language-based learning disabilities.

We each partnered with a student from White Oak for five weeks, exchanging letters on topics from college life to global issues. These letters were a departure from the essays and term papers found in most other classes; they gave us the opportunity to write for a real audience (and get direct feedback) instead of a theoretical audience or just our professor. Having a real audience made me feel like my writing was important, and through our correspondence, I gained new insights into another student's high school experience that was very different from mine.

A memorable milestone was meeting the students at White Oak High School and creating care packages for Syrian refugees. In the weeks leading up to the visit, we collected donations and researched and wrote about the Syrian refugee crisis, and the students at White Oak did the same. It was great to finally meet the partners that we had spent so much time writing to, and our project was a great success: we packed and sent off more than 20 completed care packages.

Another highlight was the day White Oak students came to Westfield State to join our English class. Mr. Rodak explained, “they all got something from this presentation and sitting in on a college class.” And his students seemed to confirm this sentiment, saying “I thought it was cool because not many other high school students get to explore college life.” By engaging with the community through our projects, our class was about more than just grades or word counts; instead it was about writing for a real audience and doing work that we are proud of, and that is what sticks with you beyond the classroom.

Christian is a computer science major.

Reprinted from the Squirrel Squire, the newsletter of the Honors Program

Topics: Working with Our Community, Civic engagement

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