CommonLore! a Professional Development Project in Real Time

 CommonLore! Students and Teachers Digging Deep Into the Community
CommonLore is an exciting place based service-learning PD program, connecting communities through student ethnography projects. We are currently piloting CommonLore in Los Angeles, along with other urban and rural locations around the U.S. CommonLore provides teachers with the training, inspiration, collaboration, and connections needed to create standards focused service-learning curriculum around their local community and neighborhoods. learn more •  contact us
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Taking an Empathic Approach to Learning Through Community Based Fieldwork

By JOE BROOKS, Director, Community Works Institute (CWI)

We had a great conversation in Los Angeles recently, with veteran educators Felipe Sanchez and Alexandra Gonzales. (a video is included below) Alexandra is a science/STEM teacher from Long Beach, California who took part in CWI’s annual Summer WEST Institute on Place Based Service-Learning, in Los Angeles. Felipe Sanchez is a long time educator and partner-faculty member with CWI. Felipe is an astute observer of the cultural layers and shifts in Los Angeles. Just prior to this interview Alexandra, along with her thirty new CWI Institute colleagues, K-16 educators from across the U.S. and Mexico City, had just spent a day in LA’s old downtown business district, which is currently undergoing large scale redevelopment. This is the transcript of their conversation. A video of the interview is also embedded below.

Felipe: So, Alexandra, tell me about your experience with Community Works Institute.

Long established neighborhood dress shop now being forced to move, due to exorbitant rent increases by developer in downtown LA.

Alex: It was a great week and we learned a lot about addressing social justice issues as educators with service-learning and doing different things to make that happen and support that. So, one of the things, one of the activities that we did, was to learn about using collaborative ethnography and we actually went in to the old downtown area of Los Angeles to find out about downtown LA, and to use the process of ethnography to really hear the voices of the people that were in the community.

So, I thought that was very interesting because I think when you first do it, you’re a little bit afraid of how you’re going to do that, but I found there were like two levels of experience. Number one was me as the ethnographer. Coming in to find out a story, that it’s a skill in itself.

Felipe: So you identify as an ethnographer in the process? Continue reading

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Oral History in the Digital Era: Narratives of Latin@s in Ohio


Throughout my academic career, I have looked at ways in which authors of fiction rely on personal and family memory to tell the stories of their characters. Writers like Graciela Limón, Gayle Jones, and Denise Chavez link historical realities into their fiction to force the reader to cross-examine the relationship between literature and their historical past.

Each of these writers also allows personal and collective memories to exist as voices that tell their own histories and to exist in parallel to written historical documents. In doing so, novels such as Corregidora by Jones or In Search of Bernabé by Limón allow the reader to consider the realities of people who experienced the historical events alluded to. This is what historical fiction is supposed to do. Gradually, in my teaching and research, I became more interested in the impact storytelling has on the reader. I began to study ethnographies and oral histories and incorporated them into my teaching to heighten my students’ understanding of the communities we were discussing: Latin@s in the United States. I wanted my students to know that we are more than numbers, and that our voices are often dismissed.

I felt overwhelmed about how stories about my community focused on criminality and immigration status, and how these stories left out the voices of those whom they were speaking about. I wanted my students to connect and see Latin@s in their (our) full humanity, even before they ventured out into the community to work alongside their Latin@ neighbors. Furthermore, my desire to provide meaningful experiences to my students by combining research and practical experience led my students and me to begin collecting video-narratives of Latin@s in Ohio in the Spring of 2014, as part of my service-learning class, Spanish in Ohio. Continue reading

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Freeways and Country Lanes: A Rebirth of the Small Community School?


Dr. Stuart Grauer is a teacher, the founding Head of School at The Grauer School, and Founder of The Small Schools Coalition.

“Will metro areas evolve from the behemoths they are today into a series of smaller self-contained communities, offering schools an opportunity to position themselves as community centers?” — Donna Orem, NAIS[1]

I love motorcycling. (I know, it’s risky!) I had my eye on a BMW 850 and was getting warm for a while there. Before buying a bike, though, I thought to rent from the local shop, just to test the waters. So every weekend, I plotted out a course or destination for a tour, went to the shop, rented, and hopped on. After a few weeks of this I had to accept the dim truth: Just finding the two-lane blacktops, meandering country roads, or the mountain or hilly passes, took up half my ride. In most of Southern California, as here in San Diego, riding means wrestling with urban crowding and 10-lane freeways more than it means the freedom of winding through the curvies.

As California came of age, like nowhere else in the world, freeways tore through communities to connect suburban and rural areas to major urban centers. It was fun and romantic as it was happening, but there’s not a lot of charm left in the “great big” LA freeway. It’s “sprawl” now, and it seems to take over everything. It’s a good thing they couldn’t pave the ocean.

Now that these legendary freeways are aging and the costs of maintaining and/or rebuilding them appears staggering and protean, we have a chance to look at their larger impact on our culture and communities — and to consider if there are better, more sustainable ways to live. Writing in the New York Times, Steven Kurutz[1] describes a progressive movement in the urban planning community to “tear down highways in cities and replace them with lower-speed streets that favor pedestrians and bicyclists and foster greater connectivity among neighborhoods and residents.” Here in Encinitas, our city planning commission these days is favoring two and three-story buildings downtown, so people can live upstairs and walk or bike to work. Continue reading

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Power, Love, Education and Justice for Liberation


Students at Brooklyn Friends School in Natania Kremer‘s Service and Justice Seminar participated in a pen pal program with a California prison inmate and joined with him in creating Power, Love, Education and Justice for Liberation.

“I really enjoyed writing to Mume this semester. I think it is a valuable experience to have this interaction with people who have had experiences that we have not. I found it very interesting to know what experiences Mume had in solitary confinement, and following his story. I remember hearing when he was offered the opportunity to get out of solitary confinement and go to a regular prison, and reflecting on my emotions when I found this out.”

“I learned a lot about what we as citizens are being told about the justice system, versus what I learned about the truth of the justice system. Through Mume’s letters, I learned about the psychological punishment that is solitary confinement…Everyone, especially kids, should know from early on the injustice in the justice system in order to grow up and try to reform it.”

“He inspired me because he made me realize that if he can achieve great things inside prison, I can do so many things out in the world, and especially in my school. Mume has been in prison in California since 1976. His background that he grew up in is similar to many other young men that are incarcerated. He was innocent of the crime that he was convicted for. One extraordinary event that Mume initiated was the Hunger Strike in Pelican Bay Prison. This event happened July 8, 2013, where over 30,000 prisoners in California prisons initiated a hunger strike because of the unfairness, injustice, and uncooperativeness from higher officials in and out the prison system. The strike lasted about 60 days and it was successful because their demands were complied with and the legislators agreed to hold public hearings so their concerns could be voiced.” Continue reading

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Hearing and Amplifying the Voices of those Living with HIV/AIDS: An Eighth Grade Student Project


Natania Kremer is the Director of Service Learning & Civic Engagement at Brooklyn Friends School in New York City. She is also Co-Chair of the Department of Equity, Justice, & Civic Engagement. She holds a LCSW from Columbia University School of Social Work, a MSEd from Bank Street College of Education, and a BA in Psychology and Education from Swarthmore College. Natania is an alumna of CWI”s Summer Institute on Place Based Service-Learning

Eighth grade students at Brooklyn Friends School recently gathered for a collection in the Pearl Street Meetinghouse to share and reflect upon their service learning experiences throughout this school year. Their thoughtful and engaging work brings an awareness of HIV and AIDS, and the profound effects this disease has on people throughout the world.

The service-learning curriculum for the 8th grade focuses on HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy, building on the knowledge they have gained in their health studies. After watching a documentary about the founding of ACT-UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a grassroots organization that formed in response to governmental inaction in the face of the AIDS crisis and hearing from Joe Kopitz, founder of TOUCH (The Outreach Using Communal Healing), the students were offered ways to expand their learning and connect with the community through direct and indirect service, research, and advocacy. Continue reading

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Brooklyn School in Solidarity with Immigrants and Refugees


Eighty students, faculty, and community members came together recently for “Brooklyn in Solidarity with Immigrants and Refugees: Turning Interscholastic Conversations into Collaborative Action.”

Inspired by the collaboration of the heads of four Brooklyn independent schools, this joint faculty/student programming initiative was co-organized by Natania Kremer at Brooklyn Friends, Tené Howard at Packer, Matt Budd at Berkeley Carroll, and Diane Gnagnarelli at Saint Ann’s along with student leaders for all four schools. (Natania and Matt are alums of CWI’s Summer Institute on Place Based Service-Learning)

Brooklyn Friends School student organizers included Angel I (Class of 2018), Maxine S (Class of 2019), Ashley B (Class of 2019), and Salma B (Class of 2020).

The event featured a student-led art and community-building activity, and an incredible panel of activists including Adama Bah, Angy Rivera with the New York State Youth Leadership Council, Zainab Abdullah with the The Arab-American Family Support Center, Kaberi Banerjee Murthy with Brooklyn Community Foundation, and Lindsay Mullett with Lutheran Social Services of New York’s Immigration Legal Program. Continue reading

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ONE + ONE Full 2018 Institute Scholarships are Today

—register yourself and a colleague with a ONE + ONE Institute full scholarship for either Institute. $599 total for both. Register today and pick your partner later.
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CWI’s 2018 Summer EAST and WEST Institutes
on Place Based Service-Learning
Los Angeles and Burlington, Vermont
hong kong As the longest running professional development events of their kind, CWI’s Institutes have dynamically supported educators for three decades now. We work to create highly effective service-learning projects and programs. In an era of torn social fabrics and great need for community building, Place Based Service-Learning becomes more important than ever. CWI Institutes emphasize the uniqueness of PLACE, reciprocal relationships, building empathy, and fostering student voice. Our collective work is in building student centered projects across content and specialist areas.
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Socially Minded Gaming That Makes a Difference

FROM THE INSIDE — Thoughts on Place-Based Education at a Community College


Fall is the time of year that brings to mind brightly colored leaves, crisp apples, sweater-weather, and lots of computer gaming! Computer gaming? It does if you, like me, are coordinating the annual Extra Life Gaming Marathon at your school! Extra Life is a worldwide gaming marathon that happens one day a year in the fall to raise money for hospitals that are a part of the Children’s Miracle Network and engages students on our community-college campus that might not ordinarily come forward and become involved. These students are computer gamers and non-native English language students. Let me explain… Continue reading

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A Teacher Connects The Brain and Service-Learning


As the last weeks of summer slip away, I find myself thinking more and more about the upcoming school year. It happens every year at this time; physically I’m still on vacation but my mind is on the year ahead. I find myself thinking, imagining and planning what this new class and new year might be like.

I think about things we might do, themes we might focus on and activities we might participate in. I imagine what our physical space will look and feel like. I work to plan and shape a year of rich learning experiences for my students.

One of the things I know I want to do this year is to include service learning in a more central way in our class curriculum. The Vermont State Standards and our local district curriculum framework both recognize the value of service learning experiences and have included service-learning in their guidelines.

The elementary school I work in has long been a pioneer in bringing service-learning projects into the classroom; and this year my principal has asked that all classroom teachers incorporate service learning in some way in their classrooms. These are all good reasons to include service-learning in our work for the year; but the reason that appeals most to me is that service-learning is compatible with the ways in which the brain learns. Continue reading

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Teachers Using Passion Projects to Chase Student Dreams


I’ve always thought I’ve had an interesting educational career that materialized out of a series of events. I was kicked out of typing class in 12th grade for calling the typing teacher something I shouldn’t have and ending up being the Physical Education teacher’s “helper” after that. But this at least gave me an inkling of what I wanted to do.

Despite being the student athlete of the year for my high school, I lasted a year and a half at college before being academically dismissed (that .71 GPA didn’t help!). The only reason I was at that college in the first place was because my sister lived nearby. They didn’t even have a teaching major for PE. Two years of active duty in the US Army convinced me of something. Though the traveling part was great, being stationed in Germany and traveling around Europe during leave, I realized that I needed to get back to studying. My fourth semester back was spent in England, my sixth doing student teaching in Vienna. The traveling bug satisfied for a bit, I did a graduate assistantship for my Master’s and then headed back to Spain, where I took up the next seven years of my life working at the Benjamin Franklin International School in Barcelona. Continue reading

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