Laura Persico '09 figured the boys she was assigned to work with at the alternative Industry School in nearby Rush, N.Y. would have "that criminal mentality." Instead, while working with the students over the past several months to prepare for job interviews, she has seen only evidence to the contrary.
"They are polite, friendly, and when you get them to open up they have a lot of dreams and goals," she says. "It's that whole 'Don't judge a book by its cover' type of idea. Nine times out of 10 you're going to find that even though you're different, you have a lot of things in common."
Persico, a communication and rhetoric major, is a member of the first official class to graduate from Nazareth with a minor in community youth development (CYD), a course of study that combines rigorous academics, experiential education and community partnerships. The minor in community-based youth development is designed to be a direct extension of Nazareth College's mission "…to inspire dedication to the ideal of service in their (the students') communities." The minor also has its roots in the rich tradition of collaboration between college and community for the extension and the enrichment of both campus life and the life of the surrounding community. Thought to be the only academic minor of its kind in New York state, the program pairs the College's students with young people at local schools and agencies; the mutually beneficial relationships that form offer role models for the youth and, for Nazareth students, the chance to put classroom theories into practice.
"The community has been asking for this," says Marie Watkins, director for Nazareth's Center of Service Learning, who started crafting a proposal for the minor in 2006. The interdisciplinary program, open to all majors and offering a conceptual framework for viewing youths as resources, launched after input from several departments and outside partners.
"It's so ingrained to see young people from a deficit perspective, that their behavior needs to be changed," Watkins adds. "Our students are seeing how much they've internalized that message themselves. They are realizing that we need to work with young people and not at, for, or by them. That transition is a huge one."
Nazareth students facilitate "fun with a purpose" activities in partnership with community organizations such as the Dr. Douglas Smith Learning Center and Youth Voice, One Vision, a city-suburban youth council coordinated largely by the Rochester Department of Recreation and Youth Services. The community partners predominantly draw children from some of Rochester's most underserved neighborhoods.
Bob McCarthy, coordinator for the after-school program at northwest Rochester's School 34 says that in addition to helping conduct classes on service learning, history, and health and nutrition, the Nazareth students represent to the children the future possibility of a college education. "They [Nazareth students] all have – what would you call it if you were a rock star? – groupies, if you will."
Through their work in the community, the CYD minors are getting a peek at another world. For example, in the preschool and after-school programs at the Charles Settlement House service agency, also in northwest Rochester, the children continue to demonstrate resiliency in the challenges of growing up today.
"It's one thing to read about poverty levels in the newspaper," says Zetta Denno, the agency's associate director. "It's another to actually meet the people who live in that reality. This experience breaks down some of the barriers so we begin to see the humanness of everyone we work with."
Jessica Chaapel '10, a double major in Spanish and inclusive elementary education who works two days a week with children at School 34, understands that now.
"What I've learned," she says, "is that even though children may not show strengths that we may identify as strengths, they still have them – and that patience is a virtue."
Jessica Chaapel '10 works with children from School 34 on holiday care packages for U.S. soldiers overseas.
Caswell Smith '06 graduated from Nazareth with a bachelor's in social work. He now serves as the program liaison between Nazareth College and School 34.