I didn’t choose Community-Based Learning; Community-Based Learning chose me. When Lauren, the former Assistant Director of the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning, came to my Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies class to explain the CBL placement component of the course in the spring of 2013, I had never even heard of service learning. I’d passed the CBL Office on the third floor of Fenwick Hall, but I had no idea what that mysterious initialism represented or even that Holy Cross had a program that integrated community engagement with academic practice.
According to the results of the survey I asked my interviewees to take, half of them shared a similar experience. Only three students, Annie W., Cindy N., and Alexandra C., knew ahead of time that they course in which they were enrolling incorporated a CBL component. Of the remaining students who were unaware of their course’s CBL requirement before enrollment, two indicated that foreknowledge of the CBL component would “not [have been] likely to discourage me from enrolling” while only one indicated indifference.
In the video above, you can learn more about how each student I interviewed first encountered CBL. Some have taken multiple courses and others only one. Some knew in advance what they were signing up for and others had no idea. Some tutored, others mentored, and still others provided companionship or other services. Some of the interviewees identify a past interest in community engagement while others associate their involvement with practicalities such as major requirements or replacing tests with a CBL project. Each interviewee approaches the question “How did you become involved in CBL?” differently, but each unique answer informs each student’s unique perspective.
My first experience with CBL unfolded in much the same way as those of the students whom I interviewed. As I mentioned, I was unaware of the CBL requirement before I enrolled. If it weren’t for the fact that Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies is a required course for all Women’s and Gender Studies concentrators, I’m not so certain I would have enrolled in a CBL course had I known ahead of time what CBL was, so I’m glad that CBL was forced on me in a way. It has been one of the most defining experiences of my time at Holy Cross so far and has taught me so much about myself and about our society.
At the beginning of my project for Women’s and Gender Studies, I was skeptical about how the site I chose, Let’s Get Ready (LGR), would relate back to course material. Being the all-or-nothing kind of person that I am, I chose the site that had the greatest number of hours per week out of sheer curiosity. LGR is a nonprofit organization that provides free SAT-prep courses to low-income students in the New England area. I thought I would try my hand at teaching a course on the verbal portion of the test.
Although my work with LGR was wrought with challenges that have most definitely put me off teaching high school as a permanent career path, this project marked the beginning of my commitment to and fondness of CBL. My teacher recommended me to apply for the CLB Intern Program (formerly CBL Scholars Program), to which I gained acceptance, and here I find myself.