ARTICLE BY ALICE DETERS | PHOTOS BY JEFF HANSON AND MATTHEW WOOD
Some University of Alabama freshmen waste no time when it comes to getting involved on campus and giving back to their newly adopted community. This is the case for those who take part in Alabama Action, an Honors College program that gives students the opportunity to devote the last week of their summer to service projects at Tuscaloosa-area public schools.
In 2014, 150 incoming freshmen and 30 student leaders spent the week before classes performing service projects at Faucett-Vestavia Elementary and Matthews Elementary schools. At Matthews Elementary, UA students renovated the playground and the front of the school and established two outdoor classrooms. At Faucett-Vestavia Elementary, UA students renovated the gym, music room, basketball courts and the front of the school, built outdoor classrooms and constructed a butterfly garden. Students also spent 30-45 minutes each day mentoring children at both schools.
Many freshman use Alabama Action as a bridge to carry their interest in community service from high school into college.
“Community service has always been important to me, and so I was excited to get to jump right into a community-service project even before classes started on campus,” says Alicia Traylor, who is double majoring in food and nutrition and Spanish. “I’m excited to use skills that I have developed in the past and to continue to develop community-service skills I can use in the future as well.
“We did a variety of things to beautify the front of the school,” explains Traylor, who worked at Matthews Elementary. “We painted the main sign, planted flowers and pulled weeds. It’s fun to know that this is the first impression that everyone will get of the school. Helping improve that impression is great and allows the kids to take pride in their school.”
Students’ work at underserved schools is accompanied by daily lectures and discussions on poverty and the legal, economic, historical, political and sociological issues surrounding it. Guest lecturers in 2014 included Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. Discussions included a student panel and explored topics including leadership characteristics, how to create systemic change in a community and each individual’s potential to make a positive impact.
Because classes begin at the elementary schools before the UA fall semester starts, students spend time with children at the schools in addition to working on physical projects. UA students lead “Buddy Time,” teaching kids skills ranging from team building to goal setting.
Buddy Time curriculum is based on ideas set forth in the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. “We chose this curriculum because many schools in the area are becoming ‘Leader In Me’ schools, where the seven habits are the basis for the curriculum,” explains Susan Alley Dendy, director of Alabama Action and recruitment coordinator for Honors College. “We also incorporated these seven habits into as much of the décor that we worked on at the schools as possible so students and teachers will have those constant reminders.”
Davis Bragg, a biology major who worked at Matthews Elementary, says Buddy Time was his favorite part of Alabama Action. “I loved getting to spend time with the kids during Buddy Time,” he says. “I enjoyed getting to watch them learn, and it’s rewarding to know that I am giving them skills that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.”
Alabama Action also gives students the opportunity to build relationships with other freshmen, upper-class student leaders and faculty. Student leaders participated in Alabama Action as freshmen and oversee projects at the schools, lead Buddy Time and offer guidance to new students. By living in the dorms, serving in the community and familiarizing themselves with Tuscaloosa, students who participate in Alabama Action quickly grow to feel at home on campus, Alley says.
Alex Sullivan, a sophomore majoring in finance, says she was happy to return to Alabama Action as a student leader. “The relationships that I made through Alabama Action are some of the strongest that I have,” he says. “Knowing that I could help freshmen have an experience like I did was so exciting.”
UH 103 Honors Action is offered every fall semester. For more information, contact Susan Alley Dendy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-348-5500.