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Flagler bringing classrooms into the community

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April 28, 2014

Community-Integrative Education might sound complicated, but it’s a simple concept: provide opportunities for students to work directly with professional off-campus and develop projects that have an impact in St. Augustine.

This year, Flagler College has continued its mission of adopting Community-Integrative initiatives (CIE) that allow students to engage in a variety of off-campus learning experiences and integrate meaning into their intellectual and personal lives.

While Flagler has long been known for its involvement in service learning and community projects, the concept gained new energy recently when, following up on a suggestion from Dean Alan Woolfolk, three members of the faculty ran two CIE pilot projects.

One was a standalone class taught by Assistant Professor of Spanish María José Maguire, the other a learning community led by Assistant Professor of Communication Kristine Warrenburg and Director of the Learning Resource Center Jay Szczepanski.

In the standalone class, Maguire’s Spanish students collaborated with Assistant Professor Mark Huelsbeck’s video production class on a five-minute video with a Spanish narration to recount the history of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. They also wrote and designed an accompanying brochure, in Spanish.

These resources will be used to guide Spanish-speaking visitors to the Lighthouse. Students served a larger purpose by providing language support to the city’s attractions, and they participated in a valuable experience in their own community while learning about history, culture, and language.

“The research demonstrates that students who are involved in their communities gain valuable language and practical experience, become stronger professionals, and have increased retention rates at their colleges,” Maguire said. “The idea was to integrate a high impact learning project which would offer the students a unique opportunity to work with a community partner and feel they could use their skills in a meaningful way to impact their local community.”

In creating the project, students coordinated with members of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum staff including Director of Education Brenda Swann.

“The students helped us reach more of our visitors by providing Spanish translations of site signage, the Visitor Guide map and safety brochure,” Swann said. “They were very enthusiastic and interested, and we enjoyed working with them.”

Professor Maguire, right, leads students on a CIE project at the  St. Augustine Lighthouse.

Professor Maguire, right, leads students on a CIE project at the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

Students taking “Serving St. Augustine: Rhetoric, Ethnography, and Community Action, ” the learning community led by Warrenburg and Szczepanski which combined an English composition course with a speech communication course, partnered with local nonprofit organizations to advocate for social justice issues in both local and global contexts.

These nonprofits included Home Again St. Johns, the Wildflower Clinic and the St. Johns County Council on Aging.

“For Council on Aging particularly, the CIE program was invaluable,” said Susan Johnson, Communications Coordinator at Council on Aging. “Having students actively participate in those areas of community life that they might otherwise never be exposed to … is a totally inspired concept that proved beneficial to everyone involved … our hope is that, just as we were inspired by the emotional connection, the students were able to realize that just a few hours of their time can make a real and positive difference in the lives of elder residents.”

Many Flagler professors have created other innovative CIE projects for their students.

In Assistant Professor of History Kelly Enright’s Public History class, for example, students developed content for a walking tour of historic Lincolnville in St. Augustine.

The students worked directly with Jenny Wolfe, Historic Preservation and Special Projects Manager for the City of St. Augustine, to identify areas of focus for the tour, which ultimately included such landmarks as the historic Ice Plant, the Excelsior Museum, many historic churches, and the in-development Civil Rights Museum at the site of the former home of Dr. Robert Hayling, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine.

Once the Public History students finalized the tour guide’s content, they collaborated with Maguire’s students for Spanish translation, as well as Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Luciana Gassett’s design students, who art directed and designed the final pieces.

“Many history students want careers in museums and national parks,” Enright said. “So having them conduct real, hands-on research and then write content for a real brochure is invaluable. We went through the process of looking for threads to tell the story of Lincolnville and then consolidating those threads into a compelling guide for visitors. I am very proud of what they accomplished.”

Judging by the reception from both community partners and students to CIE at Flagler, the concept is gaining momentum and will continue to be an integral part of the college’s educational mission.

Students show their work on "St. Augustine in Translation" at a recent presentation in the college's Solarium.