Shippensburg writing class teaches lessons in life

Students in Karen Johnson’s basic writing class at Shippensburg University are using their grammar studies to learn some lessons from life.

“We are using a service learning project with a theme of poverty to help my students connect research and learning, with the real world,” said Johnson, associate director of the university’s Learning Center.
The students spent the first few weeks of the semester learning about the different types of poverty.
Recently, they chose a service learning project.

“They could either choose the Homeless Shelter in Harrisburg or serve breakfast on Saturday mornings at Christ United Methodist Church in Shippensburg or something of their choice,” Johnson said.

First-year student Joe Lococo said he went to the homeless shelter “on a Saturday morning for five or six hours and we painted fences and weeded, just doing whatever we could to help out.”
Taylor Matthis, a first-year student who also went to the shelter, said, “When I got there, it was an eye-opener because I didn’t know what to expect. It was heartbreaking to realize people live that way.”

After providing service at the shelter or the church, students interviewed either a service provider or someone being helped.

Lococo interviewed a woman staying at the shelter.

“Her story was powerful to me because she is a single mom raising children in poverty,” Lococo said.

“She has it in her mind that she will get a job and put her kids on the right path. She’s not giving up.”

The students are working to turn their collection of oral histories into written narratives.
When complete, they plan to send the collection to the residents of the homeless shelter to emphasize the value of each story and experience.

Junior Lauren Nearhoof, who serves as Johnson’s writing fellow, said, “It touches you as much as it touches them. It meant so much to them that you wanted to talk to their children, paint their fence . . . little things like that, that you don’t think are important, mean so much to someone else.”
The project, Johnson said, is important for the students.

“Service learning helps students apply writing in a way that becomes more meaningful and rich,” she said.

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