Service-Learning Writing Classes Partner with
As Allen Brizee, Ph.D., assistant professor of writing, prepared his syllabus for his Spring 2011 Intro to Rhetoric class, he sought a way to incorporate a service-learning component into the course.
“The class focuses on the convergence of rhetorical theory and preparation for civic work,” says Brizee. “Students learn to connect Isocrates, Aristotle, and Cicero with more contemporary writers like John Dewey and Ernest Boyer. I wanted the students to move from theory into practice, to read these writers and then work with a community to address a need.”
He thought Loyola’s York Road Initiative (www.loyola.edu/yri), a cross-campus effort to help improve the lives of those living, working, and learning in the neighborhoods just east of Loyola’s Evergreen Campus, would provide an ideal place for his students to see the power of words—strategically employed—in action. Initiative Director Erin O’Keefe, ’03, connected Brizee with Curt Schwartz, vice president of the Richnor Springs Neighborhood Association. Richnor Springs, a small community of 300 homes just north of Cold Spring Lane, is one of many neighborhoods in the area looking for greater response from Baltimore City on issues related to safety, maintenance, and resources for youth and seniors. Brizee first thought Schwartz would be interested in having the students assist with letter-writing campaigns.
“What they really needed help with was communicating with each other, within the community, and raising positive awareness of the community,” said Brizee.
Three Intro to Rhetoric students connected with Schwartz and his neighbors at their next community meeting and learned the residents wanted help updating information on the community on the Live Baltimore website, a popular city resource designed to educate people interested in living in Baltimore neighborhoods. The residents also hoped the students could help develop a new sign to draw more people to their meetings.
“I was attracted to the service-learning portion of the class because it was a different kind of service that I wasn't really used to. Working with the people of Richnor Springs gave me an opportunity to get to know an area right around the corner from Loyola,” said Amber Ellis, a senior from Glen Rock, N.J. “I really enjoyed getting to know the people of Richnor Springs. They were so inviting, and were very willing to share anything they had with us. At one point, they gave us a photo album from their block party to look at, so we could get a sense of their community. They really wanted us to understand that their neighborhood was like a family. They protected each other, and did whatever they could to help each other out.”
Attendance at the meetings doubled.
“It might look like just a sign,” Brizee says. “But the civic capacity it connects to is amazing.”
The experience worked so well that Brizee and Schwartz agreed to continue the partnership this semester with Brizee’s higher-level Rhetoric of Professional Writing class. Six students are working with Richnor Springs to develop a new community website—one the neighborhood association can control more than they do the Live Baltimore presence.
"I was enrolled in previous service-learning writing classes and I have always found them to be very enriching,” said Letitia Wells, ’12. “I like that we can interact with communities outside of class and actually use the skills that we learn. It really fits in with the Jesuit values. I'm look forward to seeing how the Richnor Springs community will grow. The whole point of the website is to get more residents involved in the community—for them to be more consciously aware of what's going on. Everyone in Richnor Springs is passionate about how they want to see their community develop socially and economically and I think this website will help them to vocalize such ideas in a more orderly fashion, socialize and get to know one another and the surrounding area—kind of like a go-to for more information about Richnor Springs."
“They really want to build a sense of community,” says Brizee. “There’s an aging population in the community who has been there 20-30 years. They want to send a clear message about what the community is about to attract new residents who really want to connect to that community.”
From Brizee’s perspective, these experiences can have a remarkable influence in educating his students about the power of ancient rhetorical principles and the principles of design. “Research has shown that what to bold, where to put information, really does make a cognitive difference for readers,” he says. “We can talk about this in the classroom, but when you move out of the classroom, you learn how research and writing really can bring about positive change.”