NewComm visits Kingsbridge Heights Community Center

Vivien Sweet, Staff Writer

Last Wednesday, English teacher Chidi Asoluka’s NewComm English course practiced their literary analysis skills in an unorthodox way, by going on a field trip to the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center (KHCC).

NewComm, short for New Community Project, is a “year-long social justice course that uses the study of literature as the foundation for understanding, analyzing, and making meaningful impact for our local communities,” as described in the school’s program of studies. 

The class’ trip to KHCC was the first of four local field trips that they will be taking throughout the year in order to further the students’ understanding of issues such as race, class, and gender that prevail in modern society, Asoluka said. 

During their time at the center, the class talked to different executives about the day-to-day schedule of the programs the KHCC runs, conduct a self reflection with the KHCC teachers, and learn about the foundations and the future of the KHCC. 

The next day, the class discussed the similarities and the differences between the field trip and the book they are currently reading, Heavy by Kiese Laymon. Heavy is a memoir about the intersection of weight, education, family, self-agency, and racial identity, Asoluka said. 

The class has had two written assignments so far that have united themes from both the novel and the students’ experiences, Chloe Kim (12) said. “Both of them have sort of been a combination of analysis of the actual text as well as a reflection of our own lives based on the experiences that we’ve been reading about in the book.”

Although several class members are already connected to the KHCC through the service learning team, Asoluka intends to take that relationship a step further by pushing for students to use the lens with which they analyzed Heavy to reexamine a nonprofit such as KHCC. 

“Often when we are doing service, the lens in which we engage with is pity. The problem with pity is it is not exactly effective. It often disrupts one from honoring or respecting the complexity and richness of the people on the other end of the service,” Asoluka said. “What NewComm is trying to do is to empower students to work from the lens of empathy. Empathy allows us to show up in spaces with our most authentic self which, I think, promotes more meaningful and mindful work.”

Even though Ben Goodman (12) went to the KHCC in ninth grade, he hoped to learn more about the inner workings and purpose of the center, he said. “I’m wondering about what problems they face on a daily basis and how they overcome them, monetary issues, and the function of a nonprofit organization.” 

Grace Ermias (12) has always been “aware of the way teachers interact with their students because of their own experiences,” she said. Ermias was interested in observing the teachers at KHCC that have similar backgrounds to their students, and how that impacted the way they teach them, she said. 

Halley Robbins (12) was interested in putting into practice the social skills she has learned throughout the elective into real world interactions. “One of the main goals of the class is [to] try to be able to use our analytic skills that we’ve gained from reading and interpreting books onto people and communities, more real-life practical things,” Robbins said. 

Similarly, Goodman believes that the trip continued the work the class has been doing through self-reflection and dissecting literature to understand the intersectional forces that affect “how you live and why you do what you do,” he said.

For Kim, NewComm has required more introspection than English classes she’s taken in previous years, she said. The trip to the KHCC will help the class look at service through a more empathic lens rather than a sympathetic one, she said. 

Even though the first portion of the class focuses on literary analysis, it was crucial for Asoluka and Wilson to incorporate the study of students’ experiences in designing the class, English Department Chair Vernon Wilson said. “This course gives students a new way to see the work of the humanities extending outside of the classroom.”

“[NewComm] honors what English class does every single day but adds that next layer. It’s more like, ‘Let’s do something tangible instead of just writing an essay,’” Asoluka said.