The Value of the Stick

Community-based learning is an education model based on learning both in a classroom and in a real-world setting. Community-based learning courses are established in collaboration with the Center for Service and Action, which works with professors to identify organizations where students can gain real-world experience in ways that relate directly to course content. A student’s responsibilities and goals are outlined at the start of the course by the professor and the outside organization, and a student’s work in both places is evaluated in his or her grade. A community-based learning class shapes many students’ career choices and may even be transforming. Samantha Stribling is one of those students. Her experiences have moved and changed her. She told her story to writer Jeremy Rosenberg.

My name is Samantha Stribling, and I’m from Maui, Hawaii. I’ll be graduating next year, with the Class of 2011. I’m a theology major, minoring in psychology and philosophy.

In fall 2009, I took a community-based learning course called “Teaching Religion to Youth.” I expected to deal with a lot of theory and catechesis, which, in part, was true. As Professor Michael Lee, S.J., often said, this was a rigorous classroom experience. But the other part of class was teaching Sunday school to the second graders at Saint Anastasia Catholic Church, in Westchester.

At Saint Anastasia, which is almost next door to LMU, I had the best-behaved second-grade class in the world. The kids were little angels. One girl named Aida was incredibly precocious and sassy. Every time I asked a question about the Eucharist,
Aida, with a big smile, would raise her hand. Then there was Joshua, an autistic student, who sat with his father. They worked on everything together. To see Joshua participating and integrating into the class was really rewarding.

Learning Ministry
Aside from learning how to teach and reach second graders, one thing I’ll remember most about my experience when I’m 80 years old is what I learned about ministry.

I worked the summer before as a youth minister. I saw myself becoming a little bit frustrated because I thought, “Well, they’re not finished yet, what’s the point, I really want to reach them, I want to make a difference.” And then to have a class of second graders! I thought, “How am I going to reach second graders? How am I going to make an impact? What are they going to remember about me?”

That really made me wonder: what is the point of teaching? What is the point of trying to make an impact on these kids’ lives? Asking myself these questions moved me away from an egocentric way of looking at what I was doing.

I realized that what I was doing mattered not because I would make an impact or because they were going to remember how I explained a sacrament of initiation to them in second grade. They would likely never remember any of that.

The point was that I wasn’t the soil these kids were growing in. I wasn’t the sunshine giving them the energy to grow. I wasn’t the water that was feeding them. I was the stick that you put in the ground that helps a plant to grow straight. But after a while, the plant doesn’t need the stick anymore. It grows on its own. Nobody ever remembers or thinks “Stick!” It’s not about the stick, it’s about the plant. The stick is very important to the plant while it is there, and it has a lasting, important impact even though it doesn’t get the credit or any special stick accolades.

Because of my class, I plan to pursue a career related to education or youth ministry. Before, I didn’t think I could do that, but my community-based learning course is a big reason for joy and confidence I now have. It has been completely transformational in my life, and I don’t think I could’ve ever learned that by simply reading about educational theory.

Samantha Stribling’s community-based learning courses were established in collaboration with the Center for Service and Action, which works with professors to identify organizations through which students gain real-world experience in ways that relate directly to course content.

This article appeared in the summer 2010 issue (Vol. 1, No. 1) of LMU Magazine.