Every spring, Andrea Abrams, an assistant professor of anthropology, teaches a Community-Based Anthropology course. The course falls under the broad definition of community-based learning, which is a teaching pedagogy that emphasizes the integration of experiential learning into regular classroom coursework. Through this experience, her students get to take the abstract concepts of sociology taught in a formal academic setting and apply them to the work they do in the community. When asked how the students respond to this innovative teaching structure, Abrams says the students “love the idea of getting out of the classroom and actually getting to see anthropology and sociology in action.”
As part of her graduate work, Abrams had a fellowship involving community-based work. This experience helped her realize the value of sound educational theories when community engagement becomes a part of the learning experience. She wanted to give others the same opportunity of applying what you learn before you graduate. This desire spurred the development of the course she now teaches, helping students reach beyond the classroom and employ useful knowledge in real situations.
Her students read anthropological and sociological texts in the classroom, with a focus on the identity of boys and how they deal with issues of race, class, and gender. The students then use the information from these texts to develop a mentoring program at Sunrise Children’s Services, a local children’s home. Working with boys, ages 6-12, the students create a curriculum for the mentoring program that they personally run once a week during the entire semester. The final project of the class is for each student group to create a guidebook for the next Community-Based Anthropology students. Abrams says, “The guidebook allows the students to adequately reflect on their service with Sunrise, focusing in on what they did correctly and what they would do differently.”
The service aspect of this course, as well as the premeditated intention of including the service in the course, is what sets Abrams’ class apart from other anthropology classes being offered. Because the course is designed with the mentoring service in mind, the coursework that is assigned to her students clearly connects to the service work that the students are doing at Sunrise; this is what makes the class so effective for both the students and the community partners.
Community-Based Anthropology has been a course offering at Centre for the past two spring semesters, and the need for student mentors is great in the community. Abrams’ course is an excellent example of how higher education institutions can bridge the gap between itself and the surrounding community in order to create a mutually beneficial relationship; the community-based learning style has equal benefit for both the students and the recipient of the service. Abrams spoke with the director of the children’s home; “This year when I asked to come back, the director said he reserved the space for our class and wishes to continue the partnership for as long as we (Centre) are able.”
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