In the Spotlight: Worcester State University

Dr. Mark Wagner is Director for the Worcester State University Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement. Through his leadership the college is beginning to offer students the chance to learn through community service and engagement. This work trains a broader range of students academically, creates meaningful products for service partners and builds positive community at all levels.

The CSLCE has sponsored Project Ubuntu, enabling me to access my AmeriCorps Education Award, a grant available for anyone who serves with an AmeriCorps program for one year. While in Boston, I visited Worcester to catch up on some of the exciting programs the Center is undertaking. (PHOTO: Dr. Mark Wagner at Chandler Magnet School.)

Tell us about the Community and Leadership Experience at Worcester State program.

C.L.E.W.S.  is going really well – the kids are excited. It’s a residential first-year program – it’s really our first true learning community. They live together and study together. (Among other programs) they’re supporting Heifer International and doing Global Gateways Spring Break.

Are any new programs on the horizon?

We have a great partnership with the RFK Children’s Action Corps which supports victims and perpetrators of violence, usually folks who are facing jail time. The CSLCE has a fellowship with them, where up to five students per year work there part-time. They get paid and get course credit, and then get a job opportunity with them after. We currently have alumni working there.

We’re hoping to launch a new program where we will be taking nine students who have run out of options in terms of state care (they have aged out of the juvenile justice or foster care systems) and have nowhere to go. We will be taking nine people each year to try to get some through college. The state already provides free tuition to any ‘wards of the state,’ and they will also providing free housing and support services (a clinician); meanwhile, RFK will provide free therapeutic support.

This is very exciting because I don’t think it’s been tried. Usually when a foster/offender reaches 18 they’re out and often become incarcerated. We have programs for honors students, for athletes, for low-achieving students, why wouldn’t we have programs for people facing jail time?

The CSLCE is also supporting a new dual-language curriculum at Chandler Magnet School, which is across the street from the Worcester State campus. I spoke with Hilda Ramirez, Assistant Director for the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State, to learn more about this program.

What is the difference between dual-language and bilingual education?

With dual-language you learn (for example) English and Spanish equally at the same time, so you are gaining in both languages. Instruction is in both languages, not through translating. In bilingual you are translating to kids without context. You go into content but not culture and the uniqueness of culture. It’s a more whole approach and produces understanding.

Why is it important that we implement a dual-language approach?

Dual-language sets the tone for equality. We’re all learning, and everybody wins. The language is being presented in its true form. It’s not taking away something to gain something. It’s critical because you have to gain a language but you come with something.

Schools historically consider (foreign language speakers) to have a deficit – but you speak another language. You want that child or adult to value their language and continue to learn in their language.

It’s important to advocate English as essential. You can’t navigate the world and conduct business (without English), but it doesn’t take away from the fact that I can go into Spanish-speaking places and be an asset to an American company, because I know the language and the culture.

How does this tie into your experience in the private sector?

When you talk about national excellence gap worldwide the achievement gap, it’s about access to certain road blocks in resources. We have resources, we’re just not aligning them. We need to push the bar for American students to be more competitive. Be more stringent. Our education needs to be more rigorous at all levels.

We’re rich in resources and strong collaborations can exist. We need to raise the bar. The private sector should build infrastructure of school facilities. Economic investment in cities could be put into building schools and tying economic development to improving them.

What does this approach mean for building community?

We have a lot of double-standards. We open our world to immigrants and refugees but there’s no support system. We should say let’s make our community more global. Let’s make language more accessible. To me building community is about embracing your neighbors, learning who we are and what we like. Coming up with things that can bring us together, like service projects. Let’s show our kids we care. There are ways we can come together and it shouldn’t be around a tragedy.

How can we make schools the center of a community? I think that’s the place to really come together. It takes a village – parents, everyone has to give, but we need to say education is the most important thing in the world.


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