The warm wood floors gleamed under the soft glow of strategically placed table lamps. Oak bookcases brimmed with textbooks and leafy green plants flourished in decorative pots. John Hagney sat in a rocking chair at the back of the room, and listened thoughtfully while student Adam Moyer presented his research paper. This Lewis and Clark High School classroom could easily be mistaken for a college classroom. The effect is intentional.
Since 1994, Hagney has taught Practicum in Community Involvement to Lewis and Clark seniors. PICI is an award-winning service-learning course Hagney created, through which students acquire expertise on an issue of their choice. The students are guided by a mentor with academic and career credentials compatible with their topic, consult with EWU faculty on their research, and intern three hours a week throughout the academic year at a community organization addressing this issue.
“The best kind of learning is experiential,” Hagney said. “In a conventional social studies class students learn about societal problems, but they don’t learn how to begin to solve those problems. This class affords them enough experience to begin to think that way.”
For example, Moyer’s topic is the effect of the Internet on the doctor-patient relationship. He’s serving his internship at Deaconess Medical Center where he can speak with the staff about the ways the availability of online information has impacted relationships with patients.
The value of this kind of interaction is clear. “It takes otherwise academic issues and puts a human face on them,” Hagney said.
The students choose their topics after Hagney explains how Spokane compares to other cities.
“Once they know what the problems are they look at the services available to address those issues. From there they choose which organization interests them; then they work there awhile and develop research. PICI is 50 percent research-based,” he said.
While Moyer volunteers at Deaconess, other students serve at Habitat for Humanity, Community Minded Television and the Evergreen Club, among other organizations.
Students Nick Cypro and Flo Duval are interning at Main Market Co-op. The Market is a nonprofit, full-service natural food store owned and managed by its members. Cypro’s topic is sustainable agriculture. “I work with all the different employees at the Main Market,” he said. “I learn about how they produce as opposed to corporations.”
Duval’s subject involves how to make healthy food accessible to low-income people. Through her time at the Market she said, “I’ve learned that when it comes to healthy food and low-income folks it really isn’t about accessibility as much as education.”
She said she appreciates the opportunity to get involved in the community. “My class schedule is pretty rigorous, so I wouldn’t have time to volunteer unless it’s part of a class.”
Duval also enjoys hearing about her fellow students topics. “I learn from the other students as well – their projects are interesting.”
As Moyer shared his findings with the class, the students asked questions and offered suggestions. This presentation was his final chance to refine his research with student input before EWU professors read his paper.
This university partnership sets PICI apart from other high school classes. PICI interns are eligible for five quarter hours of EWU social and behavioral sciences credits, fully funded through Running Start.
“It’s been a wonderful relationship since its inception,” said Jeff Stafford, assistant dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Social Work. “The students visit us each fall. We treat them to lunch and a campus tour.”
The faculty at Eastern maintains active involvement with the students. “We brainstorm with them about their research projects,” Stafford said. “Our job is coaching and visiting with them and helping them improve their research papers.”
It’s a win-win collaboration. The teens get expert advice from college professors and Stafford said the faculty enjoys working with the students. “We have people who’ve never missed a year,” he said. “It’s an exciting chance to interact with some bright students. What makes for success in college is being involved and engaged – PICI students have already had that opportunity.”
Community mentors also like the interaction with students. Currently, Dave Heyamoto from Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs, financial access department, is working with three PICI interns. “The students he (Hagney) has provided have been wonderful kids – really motivated and interested in what we’re doing,” said Heyamoto.
“Our objective is to help people become financially stable and independent and start a small business. The students attended our business plan workshop. They learned about credit repair and money management. They get a chance to see and work with people they might not normally be involved with.”
Hagney’s 36 years as a teacher with Spokane Public Schools and his connections with the community and EWU have afforded him the opportunity to create this unique high school course.
As Moyer wrapped up his presentation, Hagney said he’s delighted when his students strive to make a difference through continued community involvement.
He cites Jordan Clark, a 2006 PICI alum who currently serves on President Obama’s staff, and Emily Doerr, a 2003 graduate who works as a training coordinator for the USDA’s Cochran Fellowship Program.
For Hagney his students’ successes are ample reward for the many years he’s invested developing the PICI curriculum.
He described a recent conversation about the teaching profession in which someone mentioned the old cliché that you won’t ever get rich teaching. “I responded, Au contraire!” Hagney said. “I am incomparably rich for I learn and teach that which I love.”