Join Us This Summer for an Experience to Remember!

CWI’s Summer EAST and WEST Institutes, on Place Based Service-Learning

Burlington, Vermont and Los Angeles, California learn more

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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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An Artist Says NOW is the Time to Involve Our Students in their Community

A very powerful interview with artist Margo Mullen, a passionate believer in bringing people and communities together through Place Based Service-Learning (and Art of course!)

As Margo says, “Now is the time”.

— Thanks to Nathalie Sanchez and Emiliano Brooks-Luna for this.
Otis MFA Public Practice Otis College of Art and Design #OtisCollege

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“Obvious” Questions & Thinking Like a Child


Have you ever found yourself talking to someone about a seemingly mundane subject, such as “your morning cup of coffee routine,” only to discover to your surprise that he or she doesn’t have a morning cup of coffee routine? As a die-hard coffee drinker, you learn in amazement that this other person relies on Diet Coke as a way to get their day going. Coffee is just not something that is part of their lived experience.

So, why the surprise? Perhaps you’re surprised because you thought you knew this person yet suddenly realize that maybe you really don’t know him or her that well after all. Perhaps you’re surprised because you thought that since you both share the same job title at the same company, and live in the same small town, that you must also share the same lifestyle, habits, preferences, wants, dreams. Perhaps you’re surprised because your closely held assumption — that others in your social circle must also be “just like me,” doesn’t align with reality. Continue reading

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Elder Documentaries: Student Initiative Means Community Connection at a Visceral and Emotional Level


Terry Lee is an Associate Professor of English, with a specialization in journalism, at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. With a background in journalism, as well as a Ph.D. in British literature, Terry developed a documentary studies class in which students spend the semester working with an elder throughout the semester, documenting his or her stories and life in video, photography or narrative prose. He has lately become quite interested in aging, publishing recently in The Journal of Aging, Humanities and Arts and in Gerontology and Geriatrics Education. Turning 60 this year may have had something to do with it.

Jessica* just can’t muster the courage to visit the adult daycare center she has chosen to work in. At the midterm, her documentary studies professor warns her, as well as a few others, that more than half of the course grade is based on a project in which students visit elders throughout the semester, documenting their stories and lives in prose and video. This means visiting in homes, churches, and joining in any activity that a student documentarian may be welcome. The assignment requires students to venture into the community and to get to know an elder and his or her life story as well as they can in fourteen weeks and produce a documentary story that will be published online. By the midterm, Jessica should have already made several visits. Continue reading

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Our Kids Are Kids

We interviewed public school administrator Anna Kuykendal, from urban Githens Middle School in Durham, North Carolina. Anna testifies very eloquently to the power of bringing public and independent K-12 school educators together for the conversations and work that MATTERS. These are all our kids every last one of them.

For information on CWI’s Summer Institutes and on site professional development.

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Supporting Smaller Schools and Their Communities

By JOE BROOKS, Community Works Institute (CWI)

Over the past several decades small school consolidation and regionalization of schools has rolled on and rolled out in so many communities. Our colleague and contributing editor Stuart Grauer, a teacher, head of school, and a recognized expert on small schools, has written a series of insightful pieces for Community Works Journal on the benefits, myths, and facts around smaller schools. I am sharing several of those articles below, along with Stuart’s latest essay on how we actually got to LARGE.

a preface on schools and their communities….

Using The Community as the Classroom


I regularly speak with educators, principals, and community members from across the U.S. who share deeply heartfelt stories of their threatened or under siege local smaller community schools. These schools range from public schools to small parochial schools, and are rural and urban both. These schools contact me seeking help in saving their local smaller community schools. And there ARE specific ways to use strategies, tools, and teaching approaches that focus on the community itself to save or reinvent these schools. In my work with these schools the KEY word and starting point is always “community”. Continue reading

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Don’t Miss Scholarship Supported Registrations!

Don’t Miss Scholarship Supported Rates #servicelearning #SLC18 #SocialJustice

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A Replicable Service-Learning Project for Food Rescue Nonprofit Organizations


Russ O’Haver is a senior clinical professor at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business and a retired Ernst & Young consulting partner.


This project involves a professor mentoring a small group of students who undertaking a study to evaluate the “impact” of a multistate food rescue organization called Community Plates. The experience provided these students not only practical experience in interviewing and fact gathering but also in developing a literature review, structuring and testing a survey design, interpreting results and writing a report for an actual client.

Moreover, these students came to understand the severity of the problem of food waste, the opportunities that technology presents all along the food rescue supply chain and how the question of “impact” should be thought about broadly. Interestingly, from the community organization perspective, the project results expanded their thinking of how impact could be defined and measured — beyond simply pounds rescued — and provided insights into what actually motivates volunteer “food runners”, as well as donation and recipient (i.e., shelter) organizations. Continue reading

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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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