Service Includes Drama, Pursuit of Life Stories
Among the ways Alma College students interact with the Alma community include introducing Shakespeare to second graders at a local elementary school and creating memoir portfolios with residents at Masonic Pathways.
The community interactions are part of the College’s service-learning program, which incorporates volunteer service as part of course requirements.
Among the offerings is Dana Aspinall’s Literary Analysis/Drama class, which focuses on the elements of drama and how they have evolved over time.
In order to help his students understand how much effort goes into the production of a play, the assistant professor of English enlisted the help of those a little less familiar with Shakespeare: elementary school students.
Two second-grade classes at Hillcrest Elementary School will take the stage in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which is being produced by Aspinall’s students.
“I split my class into four sections: acting coaches, voice coaches, dance instructors and prop, makeup and costuming,” he says. “The students are experiencing firsthand the amount of detail and work that goes into a play.”
After producing “Everyman” at Masonic Pathways last year, he says he was eager to do a similar project. It also was an opportunity to work with his son, who is one of the second grade students.
Though the play is reduced to about 30 minutes, the text will retain its iambic pentameter and rhyme.
“This will introduce the children to Shakespeare very early, so hopefully, they won’t be as intimidated by his work when they get to high school,” says Aspinall. “I want them to learn that he’s fun, which is why we still read him.”
Joanne Gilbert, center, during a Spring Term travel course.
Joanne Gilbert’s Interpersonal Communication students are working with a different type of text. Each student is partnered with a Masonic Pathways resident to create a memoir portfolio that includes a life story and pictures.
“The primary skill we work on is active, reflective listening, so students meet with their partners a minimum of four times to ask them about their life story,” says Gilbert. “Face-to-face communication is especially important because students today are digital natives, so this kind of interaction isn’t their primary channel of communication.”
In addition to helping students polish their interpersonal communication skills, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Communication says the project, which she has been doing for more than 10 years, has many other benefits.
“The residents get the service of companionship, and they are reminded that their life story is valuable,” says Gilbert. “Each of them is a treasure trove of information and history. They all still have a great deal to teach.”
Once the stories are transcribed, students give residents the finished memoir portfolio, so they can keep them to share with their families. As a result of the experience, sometimes the student becomes part of their family.
“This project is not only about building relationships—it’s also about maintaining them, which is why students often meet with their partner more than the required minimum,” says Gilbert. “I’ve had students who consider these residents their adopted grandparents, and they remain close to them all their years at Alma.”
While service learning implies that students are giving a service, it’s clear to her that service-learning courses benefit everyone involved.
“I don’t know who learns or serves more,” she says. “I just know that it changes everyone involved for the better, and that’s one of the reason why I am so passionate about service learning.”
Posted: Thu, October 14th, 2010 at 1:17PM