by Laura Servage (U of A instructor) and Hussein Sugulle (EMCN)
What has been your CSL experience?
Laura: I taught my first CSL course, Engaging Youth Labelled at Risk, in spring, 2014. The course emerged from a funded research project that brought Edmonton youth together to create, implement, and evaluate an engagement framework. The framework was designed to empower youth – especially those who for many reasons might be marginalized by society – to voice their needs and concerns. The process was youth-led, so helped the young people involved to develop leadership and research skills, too.
Hussein: I am EMCN’s homework club coordinator at Queen Elizabeth High School. We support newcomer youth to adapt to the school culture and to succeed in their studies. Often, parents cannot help their youth, but they want their youth to succeed. CSL students help students with homework on Tues and Thurs through one-on-one work. My job is to match Queen E students with certain subjects and volunteer strengths. Over time, volunteers build strong relationships with newcomers and they take off where they left off from one week to the next.
What do you think made CSL work well?
Laura: My class brought together a range of students: first-year students right through to fourth-year criminology majors. What they shared was a willingness to learn about, but also learn from youth who experience marginalization. 20 hours of CSL placement in various community organizations serving youth were thus central to their participation in the course. Because it was a smaller class of only 12 students, we had the luxury of being able to devote lots of class time to seminar style discussions, and we used that time together to discuss the ways in which field experiences confirmed or contradicted the “book learning” part of class. I also designed assignments for this class to help students make these connections, as well as reflect on their own values and perceptions about youth, and the way society views youth.
The best part of my CSL experience was hearing students describe the insights and self-confidence they gained by having the courage to learn in unfamiliar settings, often with and from people whose cultures and backgrounds differed a great deal from their own. I loved how students were able to draw personal meaning from course content by connecting it to their field experiences.
Hussein: For the first meeting, we explain what the homework club is and what the students are looking for. We explain that there is a spectrum of English ability, including students who have no English and have never been in school and those who have graduated from ESL and are in regular classes but still struggling. There is also a spectrum of subjects and subject levels. We remind the CLS students that different ELL newcomer students have different school experience histories. And we remind them not to assume students know things – there are knowledge gaps, especially cultural knowledge gaps.
I welcome interactions and reflections about the experience the CSL students have. Some students initiate this. Some share their amazement at the commitment the students have – they really want to learn.
What were/have been the benefits of CSL for you/your organization?
Laura: I learned a ton too! Part of the Engaging Youth Labelled at Risk course brought us together as a class led by the youth developing the Engagement Framework. It was perhaps the first opportunity I’ve had to work on a genuinely equal footing with my students, and I found distinctions between “teacher” and “learner” blurred in enlightening ways. CSL has taught me a lot about the value of experiential learning, has deepened my respect for my students, and has helped me to build more reflective learning opportunities into my class activities and assignments.
Hussein: The students get extra help with their English and school subjects. They adapt to the new culture in the schools, build relationships with the volunteers and improve at school. I appreciate how, as a group, the CSL students ask questions, which shows engagement and makes my job easier.
Nora Hurlburt Volunteer Coordinator (EMCN) also thinks that the collaboration between UofA staff, students and university professors is valuable on many levels. Not only does EMCN get wonderful volunteers to help the immigrant youth in our homework clubs, but we have learned that we can work closely with professors as co-educators.