Service Learning at Cesar Batalla

It was the summer before my freshman year of college, and I was filling out a survey for the next months orientation. Here, we had to pick a theme for the group we would be placed with during orientation, and also take an FYE course for the fall semester. I contemplated joining the General or Sports group, but something about Service Learning peaked my interest. I had never heard of Service Learning before, but I had done plenty of volunteering throughout high school, and it seemed like this would be a good choice to be placed with other students with a somewhat similar set of values of me, based partially on service.

During this fall semester, I was brought to Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Since then, I have worked as a liaison between the Fairfield University and CB in a variety of different roles. Each semester, my involvement as a liaison has changed and helped me develop a variety of different skills in different contexts.

For that first semester at Cesar Batalla School, I worked with two second grade students, Alexiel and Brian, who had just come to the U.S., and were learning English as a second language (ESL). During this time I developed basic tutoring skills, as well as the proper methods to relate to the young students. Along with this, I gained a new perspective on what affects privilege can have on a person. This semester sparked my passion for Service Learning in the educational environment, and the skills I learned during these few months provided a foundation that I still reference all the time to other Fairfield University students.

The following semester I returned to CB through the help of Melisa Quan, who set me up in a second grade classroom. I had no idea what I was walking into in this environment, and simply walked in blind with my few months experience working two-on-one with Alexiel and Brian. Mrs. Coyne, instead, had me lead reading groups of five or six in a smaller, separate classroom. In this situation, I was given much more independence, as I was sent off alone with groups of students who often had varied reading levels. I was given minimal direction, and had to develop structure to get my students on track and excited to learn. Here, I learned some amount of classroom and group management, as well as how to master the difficult line between authoritative figure and peer/friend to my students. This was the semester I felt I really connected with the students. I especially loved Malik, a student who struggles with a little stutter as I often do. It was such a privilege to work with Malik, and share some of my experience and advice with him, as CB school does not have a speech pathologist, a privilege which I was given at his age.

After my freshman year as a tutor, I was invited to be a Service Learning Associate for the following Fall semester. I have been an SLA for an English class that works within a pullout method, like I did my first semester with Alexiel and Brian, as well as an Education class that goes into the classroom to assist the teacher. I feel lucky to have worked in both of these settings in my first year of tutoring, as I recognize the difficulties and can give advice to Fairfield students in both classes. I have experienced both myself, which makes it easy to facilitate classroom reflection and discussion, as I can relate with the Fairfield students or give an example of my own time tutoring if need be. I have thoroughly enjoyed my role as an SLA. Assisting both Fairfield professors and students with their classes at Cesar Batalla gives me the opportunity to share my passion of Service Learning with others, in hopes that they can see the benefits it reaps for both groups in Fairfield and Bridgeport.

From being a tutor, myself, to facilitating excursions and reflections with Fairfield Students as a Service Learning Associate, I have developed an incredibly broad skillset and knowledge of Bridgeport, Cesar Batalla, and Service Learning in general. I hope to extend my skills and expertise further and learn more in my ever-developing role as liaison between Cesar Batalla School and Fairfield University. This semester I am transitioning into a new role, one which was held previously by a graduate assistant. I am excited to see where this internship with the Service Learning Department takes me, and I am so grateful that I signed up for that orientation group. It was a decision that has shaped my entire college experience.

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M-A-C-K-E-N-S-I-E : Learning to Write

My earliest memory of physically learning how to write is probably preschool or kindergarten, where everyone is taught to write their names. This is an age where letters and words are everywhere in the classroom, from the blue circle rug to the labels taped to many basic objects, naming them. Our desks were grouped in clusters, with laminated, rectangular name cards taped flat to the top. The card was big, and each individuals name was written out nice and clearly by one of the teachers. It had three dashed lines so we could observe the difference between the uppercase and lowercase letters, or how a tall t might cross that middle threshold while an a sits below it.

The tape for my laminated name-card was peeling and brown, and I loved to pick at it or flatten it down in an effort to make my desk feel straighter. This same notion of orderliness did not translate over to my handwriting, which has been chicken-scratch and boyish from the start. I could neatly trace the letters for my homework worksheets, but my work looked sloppy without the dashed lines to guide me. I also remember feeling frustrated having to write my name, tired by the work it took to spell out a whole 9 letters, while I was surrounded by friends like Lise, or Sara, or Eva.

Most of the writing I remember learning is based around the persuasive essay. Throughout elementary and middle school, we are taught about nouns, verbs, and adjectives and how to use them. The way we form sentences. How we stack these sentences to form paragraphs. Our confidence builds.

I remember our entire classroom moaning when another persuasive writing essay was announced. We performed really well on our Connecticut Mastery Tests, but we were sick of it. We longed for something else. What a major waste of time it was for a 4th grade student to copy an entire first draft onto another piece of paper, free-hand, just to improve the neatness. These might be some flaws in the system.

Outside of the physical act of writing, and more towards the craft of it, I find it funny how it builds. I think as students we would always be surprised. From basic sentence constructions, to variations, to entire paragraphs, and eventually essays.

Tom is funny. Tom likes to sing. Tom has a dog. The surprise that you can use he instead of Tom all the time. From starting your paragraphs first, second, third to eventually learning proper transitions into new paragraphs. It seems that as students learning to write, we learn the very basics, in the simplest terms. This is easy. When we throw the gradually learned variations in there is when it becomes complicated, but also a lot more fun.

I remember the giddiness of waiting for the teacher to return one of your drafts, the hopeful expectations for the comments, and the small joys or disappointment that would come based on those comments. As a writer, I still feel this way when waiting for a draft. I   haven’t lost the giddiness, the hopefulness that whoever is drafting me understood my metaphor in that one paragraph, or that my conclusion is clear enough.