“Students spent one hour at the living center, once per week to gain insight as to what life might be like as the living center residents, who are elderly, get closer to death,” explains Assistant Professor of Religion John Krummel, who taught the service learning course “Death and Dying.” “They made connections between text and their visits.”
Through Krummel’s course and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Kendralin Freeman’s “Sociology of Education” course, students this semester created invaluable relationships with Geneva residents while honing their knowledge of classroom lessons through practical application.
“Death and Dying” examined the inevitable fact of death and the meaning of life as they combined classroom study with volunteering at Geneva General Hospital’s adjunct Living Center. Each was given a partner from the living center who they spent time with. Students in “Sociology of Education” examined the interplay between the formal ideal and informal personal aspects of education and other social processes. They volunteered at Geneva City School District’s Head Start, working with a group of 12 three-year old children once a week.
Krummel began the semester with a general overview of the dominant religious beliefs regarding death and afterlife. He and his students discussed Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism and found similarities as well as differences in each religion’s ideologies regarding death. They then read materials ranging from first-person accounts to philosophical perspectives on the topic.
“Everything we read was relevant to my experience at the Geneva Living Center. In each of the works, an individual is confronted with the reality of death and immortality, which is something that is also present at the Living Center. The residents know they are at the later end of their lives and are struggling to understand what that means,” explains Phoebe Dereamer ’13. “Volunteering at the Living Center has been a great opportunity to apply what we talked about in class to the real world.”
In addition to bringing their reading into perspective, students found the personal relationships with seniors meaningful.
Katie Flowers, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, explains, “Students might have been missing a connection with an elderly person in their life. This allowed them to engage with the elderly population that is sometimes taken for granted on a college campus.”
Shelby Chase ’16 has become close to her senior partner, Dorothy. Recently, they celebrated Dorothy’s 95th birthday and Chase bought her roses.
Chase notes she has been profoundly impacted by the course. “It really is a life-changing class; I look at life so differently now,” she says.
Students in the “Sociology of Education” course have also found that the experiential aspect of the class has provided both personal and academic benefits.
“It always made me happy to walk into the classroom and see a dozen smiling faces. During the two hours I was there every week, I got to walk around and work with each of the kids,” says Danielle Mueller ’16. “Bonding with the kids, in my opinion, was one of the most rewarding parts of the service learning placement.”
The coordination of the classroom material and the time spent in a Head Start classroom brought many complex educational and sociological concepts home for the HWS students. One of the major issues discussed was the achievement gap and how it varies for children of different genders, races and socio economic classes.
“It’s one thing to learn about the achievement gap and how it is ever present in the United States education system,” says Mueller. “However it brings learning and comprehension to a whole new level when one is able to see what they are learning about right in front of their eyes.”
Fellow student Kelly Gagnon ’13 agrees. “Head Start gave me the opportunity to work directly with the children and observe how the program helps improve the children’s quality of life as well as their school readiness skills-which are correlated with higher levels of achievement and school attendance later in life.”
Gagnon also found the time at Head Start contributed to her understanding in other classes. She spent time in a psychology course discussing the impact of media on toddlers’ language development and then worked with toddlers at Head Start as they learned to read and work on paper.
“I had both the literature on how children learn how to read and the experience with children learning how to read,” she explains.
“I believe the hands on experience is something that should be a part of all classes and is imperative to truly being submersed in one’s education,” says Mueller. “Being able to actively participate in one’s education while helping out in the community is something that I think all students should experience.”
In the photo above, Shelby Chase ’16 spends time with Dorothy, a resident at the Living Center at Geneva. The visit was one of many trips to the adult living center this semester as part of a religious studies class taught by Assistant Professor John Krummel.