Students gain new service options

Community service opportunities will become more plentiful for students this semester, with the debut of two Community Based Learning options for “Urban Poverty and Policy,” a sociology seminar taught by Peter Marris, and “Social Welfare: Policy and Practice,” a Trumbull College seminar taught by Georgia Keohane.

The Community Based Learning option, initiated last January by Michelle Rosenthal ’05, allows students to work with community organizations on service projects as part of an academic class. Students then produce a written report on their work at the end of the term.

“The goal of Community Based Learning is to create a way for students interested in urban policy to bridge the work they do in the classroom with the work they do in the community,” said Rosenthal, a co-coordinator of Dwight Hall.

The Community Based Learning option was first offered this fall with the class “New Haven and the Problem of Change in the American City.”

Marlon Castillo ’05 said he took and enjoyed the Community Based Learning section of that class. Castillo worked at Quinnipiac Terrace, project housing undergoing redevelopment on the Quinnipiac River.

“[My partner and I] interviewed a lot of residents and got a lot of perspectives on the redevelopment plan,” Castillo said. “We got to experience urban blight and eroding social capital within project housing.”

He said the project was a helpful supplement to the class.

“It brought home the lectures in a more concrete sense than just sitting in class listening to lectures,” Castillo said.

Several students nevertheless chose to drop the class because they said it demanded too much time.

“It sounded like a lot of hardcore work,” said Tomas Garcia ’05, who elected not to take the class. “The TA said he would assign us a project, and I wanted to have some sort of say in which project I did.”

Castillo identified another downside: he said his project at Quinnipiac Terrace seemed less structured than he had anticipated, and he was not given much direction. He nevertheless said he and his classmates were largely satisfied with the class.

“We all came away from class with a better understanding of how theories we learned manifest themselves in the actual experience of urban residents or, in my case, of project housing residents.”

Peter Marris, who will teach the “Urban Poverty and Policy” seminar this spring, said the Community Based Learning option seems an interesting and likely a successful experiment.

“It gives the students an opportunity to work with an agency in New Haven and get first hand experience, which they can use in their term papers,” Marris said. “A number of agencies in New Haven are interested in having students do research in aspects of their work, and several students have said they would be interested in this option.”

Rosenthal said she hopes to improve and institutionalize the Community Based Learning option in the coming years.

“The CBL [Community Based Learning] program is a real missing piece in the education that Yale offers students,” Rosenthal said. “It’s an important opportunity for students to combine academic theory with hands-on learning.”

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