First-Year Composition Class (ENGL 1030) is an educational rite of passage for Clemson University students, teaching how to communicate clearly and persuasively for a variety of audiences. For students in English faculty member Philip Randall’s class, completing their research meant forming a bond with a group of local third graders.
“We’re giving children a glimpse of college,” Randall said. “We hope this builds a vision in them to attend college someday—something they don’t always see as a possibility.”
His students became “Reading Buddies” with a third-grade class at Centerville Elementary School in Anderson, SC. They met together throughout the semester through video chat to discuss a reading assignment, “Race the Wild: Mountain Mission,” and they sent letters back and forth to share what they learned. The third-grade teacher, Amber Chandler, ’18, is a Clemson alumna.
“They look up to these Clemson students, so just having a conversation with them and listening to them dive deep into the book was amazing,” Chandler said.
On December 6, the growing friendship between the two groups of students culminated in a field trip for the Centerville students to Clemson’s campus. The kids had the chance to visit landmarks like Memorial Stadium, eat ice cream at the 55 exchange, sit in a college classroom and meet the Clemson students that they had come to look up to.
Collaborations between the Department of English and Anderson County elementary schools began in 2012 with the Pearce Center for Professional Communication. The first group that Randall guided through the program was a scientific writing and communication class.
“For these Clemson juniors and seniors, translating their knowledge for third- to fifth-graders was the test of fire!” he said, but added, “Some of my students have told me these visits were their favorite college experience.”
Partnerships with local elementary schools went on pause during the pandemic but returned this semester with the “Reading Buddies” program. Randall’s students’ final project will be to create a report to parents and students about the impact parents can have on their children’s reading ability. Although the report needs to be understandable at an elementary level, the communication methods the Clemson students are learning are advanced.
“We’re applying lessons from Aristotle and Lloyd Bitzer, a 20th-century rhetorician,” Randall said. “We also learn about visual design, infographics, and writing for a newsletter.”
According to Chandler, the Clemson students had an impact on her third-graders that was both educational and emotional.
“I have two students in particular who are more quiet and shy, and I have seen them really open up and have deep conversations about the book,” Chandler said. “One of my students told me that he actually has the letter that his pen pal wrote him on his wall in his bedroom.”
She said that in addition to helping her students improve in expressing themselves, the Clemson students have also helped the children envision themselves following in their mentors’ footsteps. She noted that some of her students have started researching the same majors and careers as their college-aged counterparts.
“Many of them would be first-generation college students, so it would be amazing to watch them someday go to Clemson, or go to college in general and further their education,” she said, “because education can take them to places that they’ve never been.”
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