For the past year, Faithful Fools Street Ministry and the Martín-Baró Scholars, a year-long live/learn community of freshmen students at USF, have worked, learned, and served together. During the year, the students shared two classes and one large service-learning project with Faithful Fools. At the end of the school year, we talked about what worked and what didn’t. The one thing that the students, faculty, and the Fools all said was “Our best days of learning were the days we worked together on-site at the Fools [headquarters].”
Our service-learning project was bringing together 5 volumes of our poetry & arts anthology, Living in the Land of the Dead into one comprehensive anthology of anthologies. This project served the Fools and it served the learning outcomes for the students’ literature and rhetoric/communications requirements. We Fools, were a bit overwhelmed when we realized that the poetry of Tenderloin Poets, curated by Tenderloin editors, and published on the Fools’ office printer had achieved the status of college literature textbook. We write and produce these journals for the sake of passion, as a human vocalization of the panoply of emotions that ebb and flow through the streets, but we never thought that someone at a University would one day include our poetry in a syllabus or that students would read it with the same respect they give Carl Sandburg or Alice Walker.
But the Martín-Baró students did read our poetry and then they went to work. They talked with the Tenderloin poets and journal editors, and they imagined what this anthology of anthologies would look like. One student said, “I read the poetry, I talked with the poets, and then I felt like I was living the poem from the inside out.” Another student saw the poetry as a map of the Tenderloin and in that moment began the design process for the new volume. The students saw the poems as intersections between human experiences of hope, fear, and tolerance and this place called the Tenderloin. And so it is that the sections of the new volume holds poems that belong at the crossroads of “Lust and Ellis,” and “Tolerance and Larkin.” This new anthology is a work of art worthy of these Tenderloin poets.
So, yes, a very successful year, but what made it so successful was the fact that we spent a lot of time together and much of that time was here at Faithful Fools. The implications of this has taken a while to become clear. We worked with other service-learning classes this year and with varying degrees of success. What we have discovered is that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time students spend at the Fools and the success of the service-learning.
We also learned that even when we ask students to come to us, if it is not facilitated either by the syllabus or by the instructor, it sometimes doesn’t happen until too late. Students, as we all know, have many motivations for prioritizing what they do (just like faculty, just like Fools, just like anyone else in our culture), but one way to ensure that students have the time to form relationships necessary for success is allocate class time to meet with community partners, and better yet for the syllabus to identify times to go to the community partner site.
Oh, I know this is a lot to ask. But it is the working together, the time spent on site, and the relationships that students build with the community and the people that best serves both academic and service-learning outcomes. As experiential learning develops as a strong partner to academic modes of learning, we will find that institutional policies will need to change to facilitate student learning outside of the classroom. We will also find our roles as community partners requiring that we set aside time to get to know students and facilitate learning — for them and for us.