Engaging Students in Their Community
Several years ago, the question was posed, “How could a school like Pomona College encourage its students to affirm a more socially engaged self?” In answering that question we have developed for our students programs that stress association, allowing the development of relationships and trust. These are essential to the highest forms of happiness and student buy-in.
Our college does not have a service-learning requirement of its students. Nor do we require our students to volunteer. However, our students do volunteer at a rate well above 70 percent. The cornerstone of outreach at Pomona College is a collaborative program of tutoring and mentoring in the local school district.
One program involves about 25 students who volunteer onsite at an area middle school. The middle participants are selected based upon grade point averages. Friday is typically tutorial day but it doesn’t end there. Every weekend the children are brought to campus for presentations or programs. Four times a semester the college students take the children off-campus to an enrichment event or program that has something to do with the social studies unit they are presently covering. Recent trips include visits to the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance, beach clean-up, plays, museums and programs that have been selected by their cooperating teachers.
Another program involves trained tutors teaching reading in every third grade in the city. Pomona College was one of the first colleges nationally, and the first of the Claremont Colleges to develop an America Reads program, which began during the Clinton administration. It seeks to ensure that children can read independently, at grade level by the third grade. An agreement was developed with the local school district to provide a Title I reading coordinator to train our tutors. We had to make this experience real for the children and for our volunteers. Children in the America Reads program are tested before, during and after tutoring. Each year those children receiving assistance have been found to finish the year reading at or beyond grade level. When the children complete a book, through our help, each child keeps that book. We found that in some cases they take it home and read to parents and siblings who may not read themselves or who are learning English.
We reach an even greater number of children through our eight-year collaboration with an ambitious Saturday school program called College Bound, a math and writing-intensive program that prepares students to attend four-year colleges and universities. Taught to the academic requirements of the University of California system, College Bound was started in Los Angeles 12 years ago. Students on the Pomona College and the Loyola Marymount campuses receive tutoring in grades four through 12. The program has largely 175 African American families and about 200 children in the program. Pomona students tutor and teach alongside certificated teachers in the program, learning as they go along. While the children are in class, parents attend seminars related to the college experience and the parent’s role in that experience. The results have been extraordinary. Every child who has participated in the program on the Pomona campus has gone on to matriculate at a four-year college or university.
Giving our students the opportunity to sift safely through different opportunities and to engage the differences in the world sometimes is not efficient, but it is rewarding. The sifting gives them the opportunity to test their standards of values in a new environment, and to gain both experience and confidence in their capacity to meet and master new situations.
— Clarence Motts Thomas is director of community outreach at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.
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