MHC Students Put Theory into Practice

MHC students are putting their educations to work this fall in an innovative Community-Based Learning (CBL) Program course that partners them with high school students from the Renaissance School, an expeditionary-learning school for grade 6-12 Springfield students.

This is the fifth year Holly Hanson, associate professor of history, has partnered with Renaissance to teach the course. In the classroom, students study how inequality in the world has evolved. For the CBL component, they visit Renaissance and both teach and learn from the students there.

Hanson said the CBL component is important because her students get to work with a school that is successfully addressing structural inequality, and it shows them that these issues are problems not only overseas, but also down the street.

“It makes learning easier for me if I can connect it to something real,” said Ohemaa Poku ’13, who is taking this course for the first time. She plans to get joint law and master’s degrees after college. “I’m someone who likes to learn in a practical way, not just a theoretical way.”

The Renaissance students visited MHC last week, and each shadowed a student for the day, experiencing college firsthand.

“You get to see what they know and what you know and put it together to get a better perspective,” said Renaissance student Kamila Garcia.

“My favorite part was the music center,” said Justin Winters, who loved playing the drums and piano when he shadowed Julia Herman ‘13 for the day. The aspiring music producer even played one of his own songs for Herman.

For many Springfield students, coming from a city that does not historically produce many college graduates, this experience makes college tangible.

“Thirty percent of students who start ninth grade in Springfield will find themselves on a college campus in four years,” said Principal Steve Mahoney. “Only 16 percent of Springfield ninth graders will have a college diploma eight years later.”

These numbers are part of the reason Mahoney started the Renaissance School five years ago. His business card says it all: on one side is his contact information, and on the other side the words, “Got college?”

“When they say we’re college bound, they mean it,” said student Missy Ladner.

“The staff does everything they can to provide a good learning environment,” added Garcia.

All the students commented on the rigorous academic structure at the Renaissance School, and said that after seeing what college life is like at MHC, they are happy to be getting the education they are at Renaissance.

“The [MHC] students’ fingers are like torpedos on their laptop keyboards,” Winters said of the class he sat in on. “They were eating the teacher’s words right out of his mouth.”

The Renaissance School’s mission is for every graduating senior to be accepted into college. In May 2010—the first year of graduating students—they hit that goal.

“We can’t do that unless we have critical partners, like Mount Holyoke,” Mahoney said. “Anytime you can touch, taste, smell, and feel something, it becomes real and possible and gives kids college experiences that demystify college for them.”

“When I was younger, I did a lot of programs where college students or other adults were mentoring me or helping me in school,” said Elizabeth Laguerre ’13, who as the CBL mentor assists Hanson with the community aspects of the course. She plans to go into education and to eventually work in policy.

For now, she is happy to be learning and giving back to others. “I want to do everything that those people did for me,” she said. “They influenced me to think that I can make it, and it doesn’t matter what my background is—I can still succeed no matter what. If you have all these people supporting you, it’s inspiring, and that’s what I want to do for other kids.”

Image: The Renaissance School logo.