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Amherst College courses seeks to get students into community

Through the Immigrant City course, Amherst College and Holyoke Communty College students are spending a lot of time in archives, learning about the lives of Holyoke’s immigrants a century ago. But they don’t have to spend hours in museum archives to learn about the largest minority population in Holyoke today.

On March 27, they toured parts of Holyoke that are important to the Puerto Rican community, including the gardens that were created by community group Nuestra Raices. The group’s board president, Julia Rivera, told students how the gardens provide low-income families with fresh produce, a place to meet up and, for youth, a connection to their agricultural heritage.

Their tour guide, Maria Cartagena, is the Five College Inc. community partnership coordinator for community-based learning. She said Holyoke has been an educational resource for area colleges for years.

“Students can learn in the classroom and then come and look at the reality,” she said. “And it’s an opportunity for community residents and leaders to tell their stories.”

Sarah Barr, director of academic programs at Amherst College’s Center for Community Engagement, said the center helps the college to offer about 40 courses a year that, like the Immigrant City, get students involved with their community.

“We’re trying to help faculty members make connections between their teaching and research and what’s happening in the local community,” she said. “Then students can go out into the world and test the theories of the course.”

Courses include a Spanish for community engagement class that sends students to the Amherst Survival Center and schools, or an oral history course in which students interview and record the stories of the Valley’s Tibetan refugees.

The center also works to get students involved in local communities through volunteering or public service summer internships with nonprofit organizations, including Nuestra Raices.

Barr said she hopes that students who connect with these communities through coursework will not walk away after final exams. “As the course is wrapping up, I’ll talk to them about the options they have to continue there,” she said.

The center works to establish long-term relationships with the organizations. “We want to partner so we can be helpful and supportive, as they are being helpful and supportive as co-educators for these courses,” she said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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College students explore Holyoke's immigrant heritage

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

HOLYOKE — Far from the classroom, a busload of college students steps out onto a sidewalk on East Dwight Street in South Holyoke. Students clutch notebooks and look around at aging multi-family apartment buildings and the community garden sandwiched in between. The largely low-income area is downhill and across the canals from the rest of Holyoke and a world away … 0

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