UCI News

The humanities, way out there

Outreach program asks Santa Ana students to reach for the stars

August 28, 2002

I would hear the stars laughing because they’re making funny faces.
— Jose Manuel Castaneda

A star sees the planets, and it sees humans, too.
— Victor Hugo Calleja

A star can hear a band coming into town.
— Keiry Cruz

A star smells other stars that are close to it.
— Edgar Allen Guevara

These lines are from poems written by third-graders at Heninger Elementary School in Santa Ana. After visiting the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, the students in Margaret Abend’s class had an opportunity to refract their scientific explorations into poetic expression in a special workshop sponsored by UCI’s Humanities Out There (HOT) program.

Workshop leader Belle Boggs, a graduate student in UCI’s highly acclaimed M.F.A. program in fiction, asked the third-graders to imagine what stars can see, hear, feel, touch and see. The images they created and the context in which they created them project the dream of a cosmos animated by shared experience, by the possibility of contact not only between stars and human beings, but among disciplines, institutions and communities.

These young poets, along with 1,000 others in Santa Ana, are part of HOT’s growing galaxy of student-authors, public scholars, once-and-future teachers, and other academic astronauts surfing the Milky Way of lifetime learning. In HOT workshops, Santa Ana students get to travel to Greece with Hercules, rewrite the Bill of Rights, design their own country and compose abolitionist pamphlets. In the process, they read the same kinds of literary and historical documents that engage undergraduate and graduate students at UCI every day.

Founded in 1997, the program now runs about 100 workshops each year in 35 Santa Ana classrooms. Nearly 150 undergraduates participate as tutors each quarter, embracing the chance to translate their academic knowledge into community action, and 10 graduate students work half-time for the program, designing curricula, collaborating with teachers, training undergraduates and helping to assess the program’s impact.

HOT is creating innovative and academically challenging field and mentoring experiences for tomorrow’s teachers through programs and pathways for UCI undergraduates interested in education. Undergraduate Paul Sevilla comments, “Being a HOT tutor has shown me how important teachers are in the lives of young people, and has given me the chance to view a classroom through the eyes of a teacher.”

The program received a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association for its work at Heninger Elementary School. It was the only program in the state to earn an award in the category of English language acquisition, clearly one of the major challenges facing California schools.

In honor of the program’s growing impact and recognition, State Assemblyman Lou Correa of Santa Ana hosted an event at Heninger Elementary School in November. The event was attended by several deans and vice chancellors from UCI and by the superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District, as well as by parents, teachers and students from UCI and Santa Ana.

HOT received a three-year grant from UC-LINKS, a statewide network of afterschool programs that use computers with kids in urban settings. In fall 2001, HOT launched its interactive journal, HumaniFest Online. Santa Ana students submit their work via computer and then receive feedback from an editor at UCI. The journal introduces students to all aspects of the publishing process, from drafting and submission, to revision and publication.

HumaniFest Online gives new meaning and reality to both halves of the phrase “computer literacy.” The site has already received more than 400 submissions, including the star poems featured in this article. (To read more poems, visithttp://web2.hnet.uci.edu/hot/journal.) In spring 2002, HOT plans to open the Web site to other programs in the UC-LINKS network, beginning with an afterschool program sponsored by Whittier College.

HOT also initiated new partnerships with the St. Joseph Ballet and the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana. At St. Joseph’s, M.F.A. student Lorene Delaney-Ullman helped a group of young dancers write personal essays in preparation for their college applications. At the Bowers, alumni Michael Jayme and Elaine Kelly have been working with students in grades three through nine on creative writing exercises keyed to traveling exhibitions at the museum. These new partnerships extend HOT’s presence beyond the public school classroom by forging relationships with community arts organizations.

All of these developments have unfolded, of course, against the backdrop of conflict and recession. It should come as no surprise that the events of September 2001 show up in students’ writing. In response to the star exercise, Donald Dominguez wrote the following lines:

A star does not feel a sharp pencil.
A star does not hear cars honking.
A star does not see the World Trade Center.

HOT workshops are part of UCI’s larger mission to provide contexts for students and teachers, universities and schools, to build – and rebuild – stronger academic and civic communities in the face of the losses and gains, the connections and divisions that constellate our current cosmos.