Managing Spontaneity: ACE at Assumption

10 Nov

ACE kids strike pose outside Charlie’s on AC campus.

Standing outside the food court on our college campus, I watched as a group of students flowed out into the sunshine.

Not an unusual occurrence, but these kids were different. They weren’t worn down by midterms or papers or worries about course registration; they didn’t shirk eye contact or shrink away, even from my camera.

Instead, they were downright frisky – some sprinting ahead of others only to be called back by their Assumption escorts, others lagging behind begging to be in as many pictures as I was willing to shoot, seemingly devoid of self-consciousness.

That’s because these kids were the youths of African Community Education, a program I’ve written about before in this space. ACE devotes itself to helping children of African refugees close the gap between themselves and native English speakers in the local school system; since immigrant children are slotted into classes by their age rather than their English fluency, they have a lot of ground to make up. (Some were placed in seventh grade after never attending school in their war-torn home countries.) But ACE is succeeding, seeing students not only graduate from high school, but also move on to college careers.

Assumption and ACE students share lunch.

To encourage the latter, Assumption College’s Community Service Learning Program hosted the kids of ACE on a recent fall Saturday. Three of the key organizers were CSL partnership coordinator Susan Hayes, a colleague who fuses passion and attention to detail as well as anyone I know, and ACE’s Amy Connery and Julia Kilgore; a former Assumption student, Kilgore owes her ACE career to seeds planted when she studied abroad in Africa and then built on that experience by volunteering at ACE in a CSL course herself. Under their leadership, more than 40 ACE kids bussed over in late morning, had lunch in Hagan, and heard the AC Director of Admissions, Mario Silva, discuss college and how to apply for it. The teenagers asked so many questions, we had to end the session just to start the tours, led by AC students. (The visitors then wound up at Kennedy Hall, where they performed various group activities.)

But that’s just one side of this story.

The other side leads us to Assumption business professor Catherine Pastille and how, thanks to her, ACE’s kids weren’t the only students learning something from this experience. The ACE day was only possible because Pastille, a new arrival on campus who has plunged fearlessly into service-based experiential learning, saw the chance for her Management 100 students to apply what they were learning to a real-life situation – and make a difference at the same time.

ACE’s Yawo flanked by Pastille and one of her students, Lauren Cranston.

Pastille explains her concept as follows:  “The CSL project gives the students an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the community and to experience and practice the four major management functions: planning, organizing, leading and controlling.  Planning begins with a compelling vision for whatever it is that we are trying to accomplish followed by creating a plan for how we are going to move ourselves from where we are to where we want to be. Organizing refers to analyzing all the tasks that need to be done, putting the right people in the positions where their strengths can be used, and then being sure they have the resources they need to shine. Leading is all about knowing your strengths and being able to motivate others and work with them to realize the vision. Finally controlling means we keep track of how well we are doing based on what we planned and what we want to achieve; and we use the info we gather to learn how to improve next time.”

Students on tour take in the Home of the Hounds.

What ACE did for Assumption was to render the above series of often abstract educational goals into specific and concrete action, the hypothetical client you’ll only serve after you grade into the flesh and blood of these kids, with backgrounds so very different from that of the average AC student – and yet just as goofy and energetic and joyful as any teenager. Spontaneous energy abounded – but it was the culmination of a carefully planned month-long process.

One of my reasons for doing CSL is to provide students with experiences they’ll remember five years later.

Surely ACE’s day at Assumption did that for all the students, those in college – and those hoping to be.

Silva with a surprise co-presenter — his daughter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: