Community finds growth at center
If ever there was a place where Clarion University meets the community, it's at 537 Clarion: Community Learning Workshop.
The Learning Workshop, along Main Street, is a place of tutoring, special programming and learning. It also is a safe place where many at-risk youngsters are growing in confidence.
The Learning Workshop is based upon David Eggers' 826 Valencia, a non-profit organization which helps children and young adults develop writing skills. Clarion University associate professor of English Rich Lane, Ph.D., started a literacy center when he worked at the University of Utah, but he hoped to do something similar to Eggers' center in Clarion. He just couldn't do it alone.
When Clarion University assistant professor Leah Chambers, Ph.D., arrived at Clarion five years ago, she shared Lane's vision for the Learning Workshop and what it could be. Together they presented their case for a High Impact Practice Grant through Academic Affairs and received $37,000 to seed the center for two years, starting in the fall of 2013.
The duo envisioned that the Learning Workshop would be staffed by students who would be part of upper level English courses, such as English 400 (Applied Literacy Studies) and English 482 (Composition Theory and Practice). Service learning is part of the grade for each of these courses.
"They do everything from one-on-one work with the kids who come in to developing the programs," Chambers said.
While students from English classes make up the majority of people who staff the center, students from other majors have taken an interest in tutoring and mentoring area students in all subjects.
Carey DeWalt is a speech pathology and audiology major who has been working at the center for a year.
"I definitely like doing it," DeWalt said of working with the students. "They're very
honest when they talk to you."
Lane said not all of the students who come to the Learning Workshop have the best home life or have the money to afford tutoring services.
"I think our students learn that the kids bring so much more into the classroom that affects their ability to learn," Chambers said.
However, many of the students who come to the center are just looking for a quiet place to get their work done.
Besides, helping students with their homework, the center is a home to a variety of programs for the entire community. Some upcoming events include "Team Read," a night of reading and writing with Clarion's women's volleyball team for grades 2-6, March 18; Intro to Spanish workshops for grades K-5, March 31 and April 1; Introduction to American Sign Language for all ages, April 9; Sorority Read for grades 2-6, April 15; and an Earth Day Celebration for all ages April 22. All programs are held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and are free.
"We don't charge for anything," Chambers said.
News of the center and its free programming has made for successful events.
"Every program we've ever had, we've had to turn people away," Chambers said.
Some of the past events have included workshops in art, ceramics, screen printing and book making, as well as a visit from a children's author.
The Learning Workshop is open to new programming and takes its cues from the community, Lane said.
The center recently coached the local chapter of the Audubon Society on using social media and received a request from a local group of crochet enthusiasts who would like to use the center to teach others to crochet.
The Learning Workshop is busy almost every night with about seven to 11 students taking part in homework help. Lane and Chambers estimate the center serves between 650 and 1,000 students each year, and those figures don't include the number of people who participate in these additional programs.
Lane said he believes the center has hit its stride. "We're taking off now."