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Lirra Schiebler '07, right, speaks on her community research project at "From the Field: First-Hand Reports of Wesleyan Service-Learning Projects" May 12 in the Center for Community Partnerships. Rob Rosenthal, center with blue shirt and tie, is director of the Service-Learning Center.

Posted 05.16.06

Students Conduct Local Studies through Service Learning Projects

As part of a Service-Learning project, Lirra Schiebler ’07 learned that some residents in Middletown's North End spend about 47 percent of their monthly earnings on heating and electric bills during the winter season.

Schiebler presented her group's study, "Energy Costs in the North End: The Rise in Utilities and its Effect on a Low-Income Community" during a meeting at the Center for Community Partnerships May 12.

“This is a statistic I find shocking,” she says. “Our results show that the rise in energy bills has not only affected residents, but affected them to a staggering and dire degree. I hope that local agencies, will be able to use this data in a persuasive way, garnering support from governmental and other assistance programs to filter more directly to those who are in need of immediate aid.”

Schiebler was one of nine students who made presentations at the public event, titled "From the Field: First-Hand Reports of Wesleyan Service-Learning Projects." Rob Rosenthal, professor of sociology and director of the Service-Learning Center coordinated the event. He is the instructor for the course, Community Research Seminar, in which small teams of students carry out research projects submitted by local groups and agencies.

Each student presented 10-minute talks, followed by brief opportunities for questions and answers. Several of the students were part of the course.

Jeff Stein ’08 presented his study, “Defining and mapping conservation priorities in the Maromas area of Middletown, Connecticut.” He and his classmates evaluated the unprotected, wildlife-rich, 3,000-acre area known as the Maromas, in terms of its ecological value, and then ranked its parcels in terms of their value to the conservation movement.

Advocacy groups can use Stein’s data to apply for grants, fund further studies, and focus efforts on conserving the area’s top priority parcels. The Middletown Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction approached Stein after the meeting and suggested incorporating the school’s science classes with the Maromas.

“Considering that most of us had never even heard of Maromas, we were awestruck that such an incredible resource with such extensive biodiversity existed so close to campus,” Stein says. “We're all very excited about the awareness we're raising about the area.”

Julie Bromberg ’06 presented her group’s study, “Disabilities and School-Based Arrests: Local Connections.”

The study was designed to determine whether the national trend of an overrepresentation of students with disabilities getting arrested holds true in Meriden and Middletown. The study involved collecting collecting statistics from the school districts, police, and juvenile court as well as conducted interviews with special education teachers, school resource officers arrested students, and their parents. Bromberg and her co-investigators found that there were a disproportionately large number of students with disabilities getting suspended in both Middletown and Meriden. Twenty-five percent of suspensions in Middletown and 31 percent in Meriden were special education students, while they only made up about 13 percent of the student population in these districts.

Other students and their studies include: Kara Schnoes ’07 with “Implementation of Evidenced-Based Practices at The Connection;” Laura Ouimette ‘06 with “Why Student Graduate From--or Drop Out of- Upward Bound;” Julie Kastenbaum ’06 with “Report from the Field,” an Integration of Clinical Experience and Life Science Learning;” Gretchen Kishbauch ‘07 with “Predictors of Repeat Child Maltreatment among Families Involved with Child Protective Services;” Kaneza Schaal ’06 with “Peer Mediation as a Model for Student Empowerment;” and Craig Thomas ’06 with “Analyzing the North End Landfill.”

Schiebler says the service learning course has brought her closer to the Middletown community, and also has taught her the importance of finding solutions to problems on a micro level.

“It’s important to look at these problems close to home before we offer grandiose solutions to global issues,” she says. “World poverty is clearly important, but how are we supposed to tackle that beast when its equally scary step-brother resides next door?”
 
By Olivia Bartlett, Wesleyan Connection editor