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The Parkland Literacy Center

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Image: PLU’s Parkland Literacy Center, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Photo/John Froschauer)

May 7, 2020
By Grace Rowe '20
Political Science Major

The Parkland Literacy Center (PLC), created in 2018 by English Writing Professor Scott Rogers and Hispanic Studies Professor Bridget Yaden, is located on the western edge of PLU’s campus.

The PLC, as it’s called, offers after-school tutoring in all academic subjects to Keithley Middle School and Washington High School students . The center also offers literacy training to adults through free English classes in the evenings. All of this work is coordinated by community-driven and innovative student Assistant Directors: Susan Schowalter ’20, Nick Templeton ‘21, Oliva Cano-Dominguez ‘22, Ashley Careno-Milan ‘21, and Sharlene Rojas-Apodaca ‘22. At least one of these students works in the Center every day it is open. They welcome the community, create curriculum, train volunteers, and support students through tutoring. 

The Assistant Directors all study different disciplines, but they were originally drawn to the PLC for a lot of the same reasons. In particular, they observe how the PLC provides an opportunity for them to invest in the community by supporting student learning and by creating a comfortable social space where students are encouraged to learn. PLU is vocal about its engagement with the community and the PLC is a visible point of contact with our immediate neighbors. Susan, a Biology and Hispanic Studies Major, says, “It’s a great way to give back to the students that walk through our campus every day and may aspire to be in those places that we have the opportunity and privilege to be in. It’s really humbling to get to work with them.”

Although the number of students and the type of homework they bring in can be unpredictable, the PLC assistant directors welcome the uncertainty with enthusiasm. Not always knowing what subject or topic they will be working on encourages the staff to draw on the interdisciplinarity emphasized throughout their PLU education. Tutors sometimes work in their areas of expertise, but they also regularly step outside their comfort zone to help with subjects that might not be quite so familiar to them.  On any given day, PLC staff may be balancing out formulas or helping students write essays. For example, Nick, an English Writing and Hispanic Studies major who aspires to be a poet, helps students understand algebraic equations, too.

The beauty of this aspect of the PLC is that it creates a space that facilitates collaboration and co-learning. The tutors and the students are able to solve problems, think critically, and learn together. Nick believes that creating a space for mutual learning is a great step towards breaking down barriers between PLU and the students who come to the PLC, facilitating deeper learning for all parties. He says, “A lot of the biggest problems are solvable by humbling yourself a little bit and realizing that you’re coming into things with limited understanding and that everyone has gaps in knowledge. Creating that collaborative, co-learning environment helps to mend that issue.”

Sharlene, a Hispanic Studies and Philosophy double major and Religion minor, has been a tutor in the center since the beginning. She was hired into the role in 2018 and was there for the initial launch in February of 2019. At the time, she was also an AVID tutor at Keithley and Washington and saw the PLC as a great opportunity to continue learning outside the limitations of the class schedule. Sharlene reflects on the impact the center has on students by saying that through the supplemental assistance, tutors and assistant directors are able “to help the students not only get better grades but become better students.” 

While the PLC is primarily focused on academic success, the center is much more than that for these student directors. It’s also a community. They all echo each other when expressing their gratitude for the center, the students who volunteer their time there, and, ultimately, the community that utilizes it. “I feel extremely lucky to be a part of the PLC and fortunate to be a part of the lives of Keithly and Washington students,” says Sharlene. “I also feel grateful for Scott and Bridget for bringing this center to students who need help because they just want to do good in school and are passionate about their learning. I know that I wish I had the PLC around when I went to middle and high school.” Sharlene also highlights the relationships cultivated in the center by recognizing the wonderful tutors that volunteer their time week after week, supporting and empowering students.

The Parkland Literacy Center offers a small glimpse into the extraordinary things PLU students are doing in Parkland, but it also reminds us of all the incredible people living in this community. PLU’s mission encourages this kind of engagement, but it is not always easy. These students are making it happen by building a bridge between PLU and the wider community in which it resides.