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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

In Focus...

J-Term courses show students ways to give back

JoDee Keller
TEACHING BY EXAMPLE: PLU professor JoDee Keller participates along with her J-Term On The Hill students in "Talk Time," a weekly activity where PLU students read and interact with new immigrants.

By Drew Brown, Scene editor

Some students discover their passion for service during courses designed to give students real-life experience with those they can help. Several J-Term courses look at societal needs both locally and abroad.

On the first day of JoDee Keller and Gary Hiam's January on the Hill class this winter, students were given bus fare, and simple directions: see you at Associated Ministries in the Hilltop District of Tacoma in a couple of hours.

Some were savvy and found their way quickly, while others struggled to figure out the cryptic bus schedules. In the end, though, all the students made it. A walking tour of Tacoma's Hilltop District showed them the urban poverty that students would curb with community projects, volunteering at social service agencies, and interacting with people in the community.

"Classes like this are good for students, because they learn about these things firsthand," Keller said. "When you work along side those who have these challenges, it dispels a lot of myths about poverty."

But Keller believes J-Term experiences should reach beyond poverty issues. She says Tacoma's Hilltop and Salishan neighborhoods present many opportunities to participate in development activities. Students worked at a cannery, repaired a local house, took part in multicultural events like Vietnamese New Year, met new immigrants in an event called "Talk Time," and played with kids at First Place for Children.

Students got many chances to reflect on Keller's theme of service through journal entries, readings and guest speakers. The end result was an experience that helped students better understand their world-and their role in it. It's not supposed to be a sad experience, like many expect in the beginning.

Ryan Callender '04 and Pavel Sandu
LEARNING BY DOING: PLU student Ryan Callender '04, working with Pavel Sandu from Moldova during "Talk Time," held at the Family Investment Center in Tacoma's Salishan neighborhood.

"Students find the experience to be both fun and exhausting," Keller said of her J-Term class. "The goal with this class is that they have an experience that touches them, and gives them an understanding of what it means to make service a part of your life."

Farther away, sociology professor Kay McDade is also helping dispel myths in her J-Term 2002 class, Sociology in Jamaica, where students went to the country and learn how race, ethnicity, gender and social class impact people's lives. They visited "squatter" communities and ghettos and lived with Jamaican families dealing with economic and family challenges.

McDade didn't focus her students just on poverty, but on the Jamaican society as a whole. Students came to appreciate reggae and Rastafarianism; examined social institutions, like the government, the economy, schools and churches; visited museums and monuments; and meet Jamaican "higglers" who fill the streets selling fruits, vegetables, and other locally made products.

"Students come to understand the complications of poverty beyond the negative stereotypes," McDade said. "Poverty happens to hard-working, good citizens."


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