This is the third year the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement had an alternative spring break opportunity for students who are interested in learning more about the Richmond community. This year's topic was education and the programs were held March 9-14.
Adrienne Piazza, the program manager, said education had been the topic for all three years because of the overwhelming interest in the subject.
"There are a number of UR students who go out into the schools and serve as volunteers on a weekly basis through CCE programs like Build It and PACE," Piazza said.
"We wanted to figure out a way to give those students who are volunteering in the public schools a chance to learn about the context and history of the schools so that their experience could be a little deeper."
Some of the activities student volunteers engage in include neighborhood revitalization, community development and working with children in after-school programs as mentors. The alternative spring break program allowed students to learn more about the community they serve, she said.
Through a series of speakers, seminars, field trips and direct service, student participants of the spring programs developed an understanding of the education landscape in Richmond.
Michele Martin, junior and political science major, said she had participated because of her interest in the topic of education. Martin works at the CCE and part of her job is researching urban education, specifically in Richmond.
"One reason I am interested in education is that I think it is the root of everything," Martin said. "I think people who are in poverty, who don't have healthcare and who have poor health, don't practice good health and wellness, and I think it is correlated with low education levels."
The students met with school board representatives and Richmond's new superintendent, who started in January. They also visited schools in the city, both public and private. Piazza said these were ways for students to see glimpses of different areas and compare schools.
"Most of the students who are participating have had experience visiting one school in Richmond, and have seen the successes and challenges in that one school," she said. "This is a way for them to get context of the whole city."
"The students who participate usually come in thinking about one particular challenge in Richmond. By the end of the week they realize that there are many challenges, and have some idea of how we may move forward from there," Piazza said.
In one of the events last Monday, John Moeser, senior and fellow at the CCE, led a discussion on the history of education in Richmond. He talked about the various struggles in different parts of Richmond that greatly affect the education of young members of the community.
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"We have a serious poverty problem in the city," Moeser said. "A child who lives in poverty is at great risk in as much as what happens in the earliest years, really at birth, even prior to birth. If the mother is not getting proper nutrition, doesn't see the doctor, the fetus may not develop properly."
Piazza said they had talked about changing the topics in the future. In the past, food access, public health and refugee and immigration have come up, she said.
"Some of these topics are covered extensively through other programs like Common Ground's Alternative Break and Roadmap for Juniors. If we were to change the topic, we'd want to be sure there was a group of students actively engaged in that issue area."
Contact reporter Sabrina Islam at firstname.lastname@example.org
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