Thursday, December 11, 2014

Students Impacting the Community.

Coming to terms with my students' awesome group projects.

The Group Projects:

The basic course in communication at WNMU, the university where I teach, is COMM 110-Public Speaking. While we have a couple very part time adjuncts, I am the full time faculty member  who teaches this class. The course is required for all students working toward an associate or bachelor degree. That means that I get almost everyone.

The course is book-ended by two of my favorite assignments, both of my own design. The first I call "show and tell." It is an epideictic speech in which the students bring in an object that represents an important virtue that they then extol. I love it because it teaches me about my students in a deep way.

The class ends with a group project. In the group project, the students are divided up and asked to go into the community and use the tools they've learned in class to persuade people in the public good. Their goal is to get people to work with them to actually do something that changes the community for the better. Every semester, they do just that.

I've written about the group project before (here), and I probably should every semester. However, I don't necessarily have time to do that and sometimes I forget (I am a pretty terrible blogger because I forget that I have a blog and don't write for months at a time). Still, I remembered this semester and wanted to share some of the ways that the students actually got out and changed their community.

Class one 

My first class which gave their final presentations on Monday was divided into three groups with 6 people in each group.

Group 1   

The first group worked with the City of Rocks State Park. The park is a popular attraction, but as a state park, it does not receive nearly the amount of funding that many of the National Parks do. The trails, then, are primarily maintained by a couple of very overtaxed rangers. The group put together a team of students to improve several hundred feet of trails in the park.

Group 2

The second group was one of several who worked with the Volunteer Center of Grant County. When they asked the Volunteer Center what they could do, they were given an awesome task. Many people (around  23.4% of the population) of Grant County are eligible for food stamps. That should provide them with all they need to eat, but it doesn't. Many of those eligible also have no idea how to cook. So, they wind up spending their food stamps on more expensive ready-to-eat meals which have the added problem of not being terribly healthy. The group put together an action plan with the YVC to create a "Kids CafĂ©." This would take kids a couple days a week and help them prepare food from fresh ingredients grown in the Volunteer Center's garden. This would accomplish three things. First, it will allow the kids to get some healthy food at least a couple evenings a week. Second it would teach the kids how to cook. Finally, it would cover them at least a couple times to reduce food insecurity.

Group 3

The final group put together a winter wear drive. Because of our mild winters and cost of living, many people choose to retire in this area. Then, as they age, they move into our long term care facilities. They are a long way from family and have very little. One thing they need is warm clothes. Many of the long term care facilities offer opportunities for the capable residents who are able to get out and do things in the community, but it does get chilly here in the winters. While we are fairly low in latitude, we are over 6,000 ft and the weather can get chilly. The elderly people can go out, but they need coats and gloves. One group provided them to the resident of five different long care term care facilities in the area. They ended up gathering and donating 800 lbs (a local laundry both washed and weighed the clothes) of clothes to local elders who needed them.

Class Two

The second class was divided into four groups of five people. They also stepped up and did some amazing things. They presented their work to me on Tuesday.

Group 1

The first group did a food drive for the Silver City Gospel Mission. The Gospel Mission does many amazing things in the community. One of the things they do is operate a food bank to which many people go. The group gathered donations of food from throughout the community. They ended up bringing in the food pictured below, which will feed quite a few people.

Group 2

The second group worked with the High Desert Humane Society, and, in the end, with a number of local churches. The students put on a barbecue, raising money for the Humane Society. They were very upset that they only raised $250 (which they shouldn't have been, $250 is awesome). They had hoped to make a lot more and had, therefor made far more food than that. So, they contacted some local churches and got the extra food out to people who needed it. It was a double whammy

Group 3

The third group had a member of a popular local bluegrass band, the Silver City String Beans in it. That meant that they had the opportunity to put on a concert to make the community better, They worked with The Volunteer Center of Grant County to do that. The Volunteer Center is trying to create a commercial kitchen with all the necessities for people who want to legally give food to the hungry or cook for sale. One of the things needed for this was an industrial grade freezer. The group was able to hold a concert which put $300 to that cause.
The Silver City String Beans Perform Old Joe Clark

Group 4

The Fourth Group also did a food drive, but this one for the Volunteer Center which also operates a food bank. The group received permission to put boxes in front of Walmart, Walgreens, and Artistic Impressions (a local hair salon), The group raised what they described as "Two big trunk loads" of food. This food will help feed the hungry here. 


Class Three

The third class presented their work to me on my birthday, Wednesday, December 10th. They were divided into three groups of five and one of four. Their impact on the community was just as impressive as the groups on Monday and Tuesday.

Group 1

The first group created a program they called "Kids Cause." The idea was to get warm clothes and a toy to children who might not otherwise get them. They found that the schools right here in our community had programs like "shop with a cop" which helped out kids in these situations. When they looked at some of the rural schools, however, they didn't. So, they focused on those schools and received donations of $1045. That was enough for five kids at tiny nearby school to receive the benefits. The group took the five kids, chosen by the school's principles, and made sure they had plenty of warm clothes. One little girl still had money in the budget after a coat, sweater, jeans and a toy were chosen. One of my students, shopping with her, suggested that they buy some pajamas. "Oh, that would be great!" the little girl said "I've never had pajamas!"

Group 2

The second group worked with the local Children Youth and Families Department. That is the agency that, in New Mexico, handles all the foster care situations. Many children put into foster care come to their new homes with nothing. They don't have tooth brushes, hairbrushes, towels or anything much more than the clothes on their back. The group worked with a local dental office to garner toothbrushes and then asked for donations at the entrance of Walmart for donations to get the other items they needed. From there, the group put together 100 care packages for children going into foster care. 

Group 3

A third group worked with The Silver City Gospel Mission in their cold weather men's shelter. There is not a full-time place for men to love in Silver City, but on nights when it is especially cold, the Gospel Mission sets up some cots for a safe place for the men. They are served a warm drink, a good cooked meal. and then they vote for a movie on Netflix which they watch and go to bed. The students were able to run the shelter for a night, cooking the meal, setting up Netflix, etc. One student told how the men kept telling them that God would reward them. The student was pretty skeptical about the existence of a god, but said that she really hadn't done much to deserve a reward if there was one. She was wrong.

Group 4

The fourth group decided to solicit funds for the High Desert Humane Society for a 50/50 raffle. They went to the tailgating at the last football game for the season and went from truck to truck selling tickets for $1 each. Apparently, they must have sold 200 tickets because they were able to give $100 to the humane society and the winner of the raffle got $100.

Class Four

The fourth class presented their work to me today. They were divided into three groups of five or six people. They also made a huge difference in the community.

Group 1

The first group worked with the Silver City Gospel Mission. In addition to the other things that you've read about in this blog, the Gospel Mission also serves warm meals to anyone in need. This time of year, that is about 40 people per day. The students prepared, cooked and served the meal to the people there.

Group 2

The second group worked with the High Desert Humane Society and Tractor Supply Company in what looked like a really fun way. They did a "pet adoption day" in the parking lot of tractor supply company. They brought puppies from the shelter and baked goods to sell.  Most students, when they are presenting their projects, show lots of pictures and some videos. This group dealing with puppies in the Tractor Supply parking lot looked like they were having twice as much fun as others in the group. They said that there were no puppies adopted that day, but that a representative from the Humane Society had told them that because they had been there, many people who saw the dogs and puppies came to the shelter later and did adopt pets.

Group 3

The third group did a house-to-house (and office to office, they came to mine) book drive. The idea was to get books into the hands of children in the community. They explained that children need a great many books to develop (which either has eventual diminishing returns or my daughter is going to be the smartest girl ever). They worked with the Silver City Public Library to distribute the books.



I always love it.

Now, the grades in this assignment are not necessarily related to the good students do. They are related to the extent to which they used skills they learned in class to do the good that they do. Still, just looking at these awesome assignments, you can probably guess that the range of grades for the assignment isn't going to have much in the "C" range. Much like at Lake Woebegone, all of these students did above average. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Birthday to ME

Coming to terms with the past year. 

It is my birthday. It is the end of a semester. It is the end of 2014. It is a time for reflection.

My birthday last year was different. I was just back from the Newborn Intensive Care Unit with a baby still needing bottled oxygen and a wife who was in the darkest stages of postpartum depression. I was full of adrenaline and endorphin as I took care of this new precious life. I was unsure of what to do with my wife. She just wanted to lay in bed all day. She didn't seem to want to take care of this new baby. I think it really hit me how deep she was into it on my birthday.

See, my wife's primary love language is gifts. She goes a bit nuts for birthdays. For me this is kind of awkward for a couple reasons. First of all, I don't really like gifts. Of course, it's always nice to get something. It is even more amazing to give someone something they love. Still, I don't think about it much. I don't want much from people. I don't generally think to give people things. It's bad because I don't give her gifts like she does for me. Last year, on my birthday, there were not the piles of gifts she'd normally get me. I didn't mind. I don't really want gifts. I want my wife to be okay. I knew when I didn't get a pile of gifts that she really wasn't okay.

This year, I know she's better. First of all, I count five presents in the pic of our kitchen table (pictured below), but there's also a box beside it. This is the woman I know. I don't care what's in the bags. the fact that there are bags shows me that Jamie is back. That matters so much more than anything else I could possibly want.

Last year my daughter was still on oxygen. She had to keep these tubes in her nose that had to be taped on her face. The tubes were attached to an oxygen bottle which kept a constant flow to her. Besides this added difficulty, she was a newborn. That means feedings every few hours. Her mom was really in no position to help much. I loved this new little girl so much but was completely overwhelmed.
Now my daughter is doing awesome. She is a big, smart one-year old who loves to play, make animal sounds and generally enjoys life (except when she can't have what she wants). She spends most of her day with her mommy who, admittedly, does most of the work caring for her. I get to spend my evenings watching her play with her toys and learn,, learn, learn. I my still be a bit overwhelmed, but I like it. Her mommy made this video for me this morning.

video


At work I wasn't sure what was going on. I mostly teach the introductory class in communication. In fact, that's about all I teach. That's sort of fine. I love the introductory class. I love teaching classical rhetoric as public speaking to new students, but I'd sort of like to do more advanced stuff. So, I'd worked on this Communication Minor and it was on hold. I was on way too many committees. I was sinking, really. 

I am still on too many committees, but I've learned to say "no." I am excited about some of my research projects. The minor has been taking up by the administration and it might end up being something more awesome than I'd ever dreamed of. It all looks really good. 

I get depressed sometimes. I don't have the money I need to give my wife and daughter the life they should have. I hate that. I am a long way from many of my friends and all of my family. That makes me lonely. I still don't have a friend who I can spend time with outside of specific settings: someone who can come over and play video games, or go out with the dogs, for instance, or something. I've got church-friends who have helped me out big-time with things. I've got colleagues at work who are more than just collegial. I have old friends from other eras in my life who are a phone call and a thousand miles away, but no one who just hangs out. I think I need that.

Overall, however, I can't say things are going poorly. If I truly and honestly reflect on the last year I have to say: "life is good."