The “We the People” service learning program at John Carroll University was one of five national recipients of the New York Life Higher Education Civic Engagement Award.
This award is given annually to five schools out of 100 applicants. Schools are chosen by a selection committee in conjunction with The Washington Center. The committee looks for schools that are building community partnerships that demonstrate leadership and innovation in addressing issues that affect the public; a vision for change; and depth of communication between the institution and the community.
Margaret Finucane, assistant professor in the department of communication and theatre arts, nominated “We the People” for this award. When asked why she nominated the program, Finucane said, “It matters what we do. It is an exemplary program in terms of civic engagement.” Along with the nomination, a two-page application must be sent in. One page is about the University’s commitment to civic engagement and the other is about the program itself. John Carroll is the first Jesuit institution to receive this award.
“We the People” is a tutoring program that reaches all of the fourth and fifth grade classrooms in East Cleveland. There are currently 477 tutors who teach 3100 students. Each week, teams of four tutors go to the schools and teach units from the textbook entitled, “We the People.” In May, the students come to John Carroll’s campus to test their knowledge of the textbook through a mock congressional hearing. “Students can picture themselves on campus and it motivates them,” said Liz Deegan, assistant director for program development for the center for service and social action.
Under the “We the People” umbrella is also a program called “Youth for Justice,” a program for eighth graders. Tutors help students identify an injustice in the community, and after researching the topic, they develop a proposed solution and present it to judges at the Youth for Justice Symposium on campus. In the past, students have attempted to prevent teens from joining gangs by having a former gang member talk to middle schools to raise awareness. “[The program] helps the kids and that’s what we’re all about. It impacts us and our lives,” said sophomore tutor Tainne Dallas.
The last program, called “Project Citizen,” is for high school students. Tutors help students identify a change they want to see happen to a policy in their community. Past topics have been bettering the relationships between the police and teens as well as promoting healthier food options within the school systems.
“[The programs] break down stereotypes and change assumptions about the education system,” said Deegan.
The $20,000 award will go towards helping students involved in tutoring to participate in The Washington Center’s academic internship program. This program allows four students, either for a semester or for a summer, to live in Washington, D.C. to intern with major organizations. The Washington Center includes thousands of John Carroll alumni and is an opportunity for networking.
Students can intern with Capitol Hill, The U.S. Department of Agriculture and many other government or non-profit organizations on the city. “It’s an amazing opportunity for John Carroll students,” said Deegan. Students interested in the internship must commit to “We the People” for one year and must have a sophomore standing. They can apply through the center for global education.
Interns work four days each week and spend one day each week taking classes in political science or communication. These classes are taught on site by faculty whom students can learn from and network with. “It’s an opportunity for real world experience,” said Margaret Finucane.
A celebration was held on Monday, Oct. 12 in the Reading Room of the Dolan Center for Science and Technology in recognition of this honor. Junior Adam Chaney said, “It is a huge honor. I am happy that ‘We the People’ is being recognized on a national level.”
The celebration consisted of speeches given by Finucane, Deegan, Director of the Center for Service and Social Action, Sr. Katherine Feely and President of the University, Fr. Robert L. Niehoff, S.J. “It is really nice for us to be recognized for the transformative work we’re doing here. We are being recognized by our peers who are very aware of what’s going on in the country in terms of service,” said Niehoff.