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  • Vive Griffith

25 Lessons for 25 Years!

If you've spent time with Clemente on Facebook or Twitter this fall, you've seen our #Clemente25 campaign, highlighting 25 years of Clemente and its graduates across the country. We've had so much fun sharing photos, milestones, and highlights from our courses around the country.

Central to that campaign has been #25lessonsfor25years, a compendium of what we've learned in bringing humanities classes to adults over a quarter century. Our academic directors and staff put their heads together to capture some of the top lessons we carry into the next 25 years, lessons that might help other organizations serving nontraditional students build engaging and supportive classrooms. Also, they're snazzy!

Our first lesson was posted online on August 24th, and our final lesson on December 4th. You can now find them all here. We hope you'll find some to delight and surprise you!

1. You had us at hello! We learned that the process of building strong relationships with our students starts from the very beginning, whether we meet them at official Clemente interviews, recruitment events, or at our local grocery store.

2. Every table is a perfect table! We learned that as long as our students can gather face to face (physically or virtually), we can build the caring and welcoming classroom community that is the hallmark of a Clemente course.

3. Everybody loves Shakespeare! We learned that the Bard has a play or a poem for every circumstance. King Lear is a particular favorite of Clemente courses all across the country.

4. Embrace disagreement! We learned that engaging with those who have different opinions helps our students open their minds, communicate effectively, and clarify their own perspectives.

5. The community is the classroom! We learned that sometimes, our best partnerships grow in the places you’d least expect--like a Toyota dealership that offered us a conference room for class.

6. They’re called the classics for a reason! We learned that even thousands of years later, texts like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave resonate with modern students, even as they live and learn in a very different world

7. Educating a parent educates a family! We learned that a love of learning is contagious, and parents who are passionate about their studies serve as excellent role models for their whole families.

8. Socrates was onto something! We learned that setting up our classroom as a dialogue where all participants have equal voices is the key to showing students that they are heard, understood, and valued.

9. The classroom door is always open! We learned that maintaining a caring, nonjudgmental attitude is the best way to support students who were not able to finish their Clemente course the first time around. We have encouraged many students to try again and helped them succeed, sometimes years after their first contact with us!

10. Don’t fear the conflict! We learned that nearly any classroom disruption can be handled if you approach your work with compassion and treat every student with respect and dignity.

11. History is now! We learned that the key to making the study of history relevant to our students is to show them that the figures we study were real, vibrant people much like themselves. We love to remind them that we are all living through history every day.

12. Say it with art! We learned that discussing controversial topics through visual art, poetry, music, and literature can help shift the conversation from students’ actions or opinions to those of a character or artist.

13. Go ahead, be vulnerable! We learned that in the classroom, the students (and professors) who are willing to take risks and introduce tough topics help make the Clemente experience richer for everyone.

14. Belonging is everything! We’ve learned that it can take a little extra effort and care to make the classroom feel welcoming to nontraditional students, but that this groundwork is critical if we want our students to thrive.

15. No classroom, no problem! We learned our students are so dedicated to learning that they’ll join on the subway, in a park, or anywhere in between

16. Bring on the hard stuff! We learned our students don’t shy away from the tough topics but embrace them head on.

17. More than a trim, please! We learned that hair salons, barber shops, and other natural gathering spots are great places to connect with new students.

18. Libraries are the lifeblood of our communities. We learned that libraries--from Halifax to Madison to Austin--make great classrooms where books and technology are readily available and learning is always at the forefront.

19. Socrates and Shakespeare feed the soul but don't put food on the table that night. We learned that for families near the poverty level, providing wrap-around support and emergency aid is key to success.

20. Don't forget the cheese! We learned that students might manage in class with a forgotten pen, book, or extra paper, but breaktime snacks are non negotiable. You can't read philosophy and literature without some brain fuel.

21. Students make each class their own. We learned that when we hit the point in the academic year where the students run the class and shape the conversations around material, we know we've done our job.

22. More writing! We learned that the prospect of writing makes the smartest, most proficient student nervous. But if we fold writing into each class, we demystify the process and build students’ confidence.

23. Douglass does it again. We’ve learned from one of the most widely read books across Clemente Courses, Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, that the residue of slavery is felt across generations.

24. We are in this (learning) together. We’ve learned that students teach faculty as much a faculty teach them. Our classrooms are always a dynamic interchange, where we learn and grow in conversation with the texts and with each other.

25. It’s never too late to live a better life. We learned that students from 18 to 80 arrive in the classroom with ambitions to make a fresh start. No matter their age and background, they can build something new from their Clemente experience.

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