Monday, January 14, 2013

Queens VISTA grows healthy partnership with local school

For NC Campus Compact VISTA Christina D'Aulerio, managing Queens University's growing partnership with nearby Sedgefield Elementary School is the best kind of challenge. "It's project overload. Basically, organized chaos," she says. "Queens is connecting with the school in so many ways." Now in its second year, the partnership keeps finding new ways to engage Queens students with the students, staff, and families of Sedgefield Elementary, a Title I school where more than 90% of students receive free and reduced price lunch.
VISTA Christina D'Aulerio

One of the new connections Christina is most proud of is the Sedgefield garden, built and maintained by the current freshman class at Queens. As their Freshman Core project, the students built 8 raised beds, compost bins, and picnic tables at Sedgefield. "Each table is painted to show a theme, like math or geography," Christina explains. "My favorite is the one with hand prints of all the people who worked on project, including the principal."

A garden club comprised of Queens students works with the afterschool program to engage youngsters in planting, garden maintenance, and educational activities organized around topics like "Carrots!" "The kids are always getting their hands in the garden and doing cool projects," Christina explains. "When they wrote songs about vegetables, one kid made up a rap about radishes." The Freshman Core group will work with the garden project throughout their four years at Queens. This fall, the young gardeners have harvested over 30 pounds of produce to donate to Friendship Trays, a local non-profit that prepares and delivers nutritious meals to the elderly and infirm.

Queens engages with its school partner in many other ways. Students volunteer as lunch buddies, or with the afterschool program; they assist teachers during special classes like art and music; and two dozen serve as mentors to students at the school through a special partnership with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Next semester, many Queens volunteers will support the school's Read-A-Thon through a book drive and participating each week in the Drop Everything And Read (D.E.A.R.) project. Christina is also working to bring a "super secret special guest" to Sedgefield who will inspire students to keep reading. In her role as a VISTA this year based at Queens' Center for Active Citizenship, Christina helps coordinate all this volunteer activity, visiting the school at least once a day. As the relationship becomes established, her goal is better "communicating with Sedgefield about what they want, trying to ask them."

"When I started, I didn't know I was capable of doing it, " Christina recalls. She has surprised herself. She learned much from her prior year of service as an AmeriCorps member with Boys Hope/Girls Hope, a residential program for urban, at-risk youth in Baltimore, MD. "It was an amazing experience and changed my life for sure," she declares. A flutist and music major at Stetson University, her "ultimate goal is to open my own non-profit music organization. I wanted to do a year of VISTA service so I could see all that behind-the-scenes work - all the business side, project management, volunteer management, finding resources - that you have to do in the non-profit field."

A native of central Florida, Christina had never visited Charlotte, NC before coming as a VISTA, but she's found it very hospitable. "People are so nice here!" she marvels. In her free time, Christina is active in a local church, and she enjoys taking advantage of the cultural and social events at Queens.

You can read more about the Queens-Sedgefield partnership in a VISTA VIEW post here.