Utah's New Clemente Program Seeks to Excite Underserved Students to Attend College

Jun 16, 2014

June 16, 2014 Westminster partners with UHC, University of Utah on new endeavor SALT LAKE CITY - Sitting off to the side of the East High classroom, Westminster teaching fellow Willy Palomo watches as a group of sophomores prepare to make their final presentations for Utah's first-ever Clemente Course in the Humanities. As one student steps up to the front of the class, he shares a poem about football, school and his dreams of attending college. Another student reenacts his family's flight from Venezuela to the United States due to civil war. Two other students stand up and share stories of family members being smuggled by "coyotes" into the U.S. from Mexico. Looking on, Palomo can relate to many of the students' stories. Many years ago, he too had family members who fled from civil war in Central America to make a better life in the U.S. Now a junior and member of the Honors program at Westminster, Palomo wished he would have had a program like Clemente in high school that not only would have helped him navigate a path to college, but would have allowed him to share his experiences with students similar to him. In the fall of 2013, Utah hosted its inaugural Clemente Course in the Humanities at East High School. Designed for students like Palomo, the program's goal is to excite underrepresented, first-generation students about learning and attending college. "Like many people in Utah, the Utah Humanities Council is concerned about the low college matriculation rate of students from families living on low incomes, and we believe studying the humanities can inspire students to develop their aspirations and ability to attend college." said Jean Cheney, associate director of the Utah Humanities Council. The Clemente program is a community partnership initiated and directed by the Utah Humanities Council and partners with Westminster's Honors Program faculty and students, the University of Utah's Honors College and University Neighborhood Partners. The program is currently being offered to 20 sophomores in East High's AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program. East was selected for Clemente because of its high minority population. This year, students have been learning about art history, philosophy, literature and history. Over the past semester, Westminster film professor Sean Desilets and history professor Gary Marquardt, along with Palomo and another Westminster fellow Nicole Bedera, have been teaching history and literature to the Clemente students. "Both of our sections have worked on African diaspora, especially the path Africans took to and thereafter to the U.S.," explained Marquardt, who has been helping students connect history with their own personal stories of migration. "Most of these students and their families have had experiences with international migration, so it's a nice tie in to help them understand certain situations and decision making processes that each student's family had to go through to ultimately decide to leave the country and come to the United States." As part of the class, students were asked to gather oral histories from family members, analyze and explore African literature, reenact slave escapes in the transatlantic slave period and discuss a variety of issues as a class. At the end of the semester, students were asked to include four artifacts in a final portfolio and pick two they can share with the class, and could interpret them in any way, shape or form. As students presented their final projects, the teaching fellows and professors alike observed the change in the students from the beginning of the semester. "The growth in the Clemente students this year has been amazing," added Cheney. "We have seen students who speak English as a second-or third or fourth-language become much more confident and eager to share their thoughts in class. Students who never saw themselves as leaders or people who could influence their school and community, now do." "I think the Clemente program really helped me with speaking out loud to a big audience," said Christian Cortes, who hopes to attend the University of Utah to study engineering after graduation. "I think the class has helped me in a lot of ways.and I feel like the class is like a family to me. I feel pretty confident about sharing what I think and not being judged, and it's helped me in other classes as well." Other students in the class echoed Cortes' thoughts on how Clemente has helped them outside of the course. "When I first came into the program, I noticed how open everyone in the class was and how closely they worked together," said Jasmine Juarez, who also plans to attend college after she graduates from East High. "Over the year I noticed that I was better able to open up with my other teachers and talk to them as if it were this class." Palomo was also impressed, not only by the course, but with the students' progress throughout the semester. "It's been exciting for me to see the opportunity that Clemente has given to students that I didn't have," he added. "It's exciting to see quiet students speak up and give insightful comments." As the semester comes to a close, the future of the Clemente program looks bright. "Eventually, we hope that the program will serve both sophomore and junior students at East High," said Cheney. "Next year, an honors Clemente Course will be offered to juniors. And assuming the program is reaching its goals, the Utah Humanities Council would like to replicate the Clemente course with another school district and higher education partner in Utah." Palomo, as well as Desilets and Marquardt, will continue to teach the program next year. "I feel it's a very important project, and I want to help shape it in the beginning years," he concluded. The Clemente Course in the Humanities was made possible by a generous grant to the Utah Humanities Council by Alternative Visions, a fund of the Chicago Community Trust.     [gallery link="file" ids="5671,5673,5670,5672,5674,5655,5675,5665,5666"]

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Westminster is a private, independent, and comprehensive college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Students experience the liberal arts blended with professional programs in an atmosphere dedicated to civic engagement. With the goal of enabling its graduates to live vibrant, just, and successful lives, Westminster provides transformational learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students in a truly student-centered environment. Faculty focus on teaching, learning, and developing distinctive, innovative programs, while students thrive on Westminster’s urban Sugar House campus within minutes of the Rocky Mountains.

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