Community Engaged Learning (CEL) Days are co-curricular service learning events during which students learn, serve, and reflect on an issue together. During Welcome Week, TCNJ First Year students meet in their First Year Seminar Program (FSP) groups and choose an issue area in which they will work for an eight-hour service day. These CEL days are organized by Bonner Institute staff and Bonner Community Scholars in collaboration with TCNJ partners in the community.
On a typical CEL day, Bonner Scholars gather First Year students to learn about the magnitude of the community issue they selected, and hear why the College has a community engaged learning requirement. Students then work on a meaningful service project, reflect on what they learned from experience, and learn about how they can stay involved if they have an interest in doing so.
Each year, CEL Days focus on a range of community issues including hunger, homelessness, education, the environment, developmental disabilities, youth development, housing, juvenile delinquency, and much more. The vast majority of these take place at Bonner partner sites, nonprofit organizations that host Bonner Community Scholar Teams that work on critical community issues on a weekly basis. A sample of some of our favorite and annual CEL Days appears below.
Dr. Seuss Day
Over 50 TCNJ students travel to Hedgepeth-Williams Middle School in Trenton, where they run Dr. Seuss themed workshops that promote literacy and stress the importance of education. For example, in the “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” session TCNJ students read with their younger partners and encourage them to think about their goals. In “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket”, the Hedgepeth-Williams students are asked to use their imagination and rhyming skills to come up with their own fictional characters.
East Trenton Collaborative Days
Students are brought to the North Ward of Trenton, also known as the East Trenton Collaborative zone, to work on community development projects in the neighborhood. The East Trenton Collaborative includes Better Community Housing of Trenton, CityWorks, Habitat for Humanity, HomeFront, Isles, the City of Trenton and East Trenton residents. It was born out of a desire on the part of local residents and agencies to organize so they could have input into how their neighborhood was redeveloped. Students help with beautification projects including external painting, park clean up and rehabilitation, gardening and weeding, and other activities.
Trenton Area Soup Kitchen Days
Once a month, First Year students interested in addressing the problem of hunger in our cities go to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen with our Bonner team for a full day. They may serve food on the line, prepare hygeine bags, tutor patrons pursuing their GED, or help with a food stamp registration project. These are eye opening days that personalize hunger and break down traditional stereotypes of people who go to Soup Kitchens, who are experiencing homelessness, or who are enrolled in food stamps programs.
Visitation Home Days
First Year students who choose to learn about and provide service around developmental disabilities spend the day working with Bonners at Visitation Home, a residence for adults with developmental disabilities. Together, they might complete chores as well as participate in recreational, social, and educational activities. On recent visits, TCNJ students and residents painted the deck, baked some brownies, played musical chairs, and made paper bag turkeys for Thanksgiving.
Sixth Grade Writer’s Project
One Wednesday every month, over 100 sixth-grade students from the city come to campus to work on a year-long short story writing project. First Year students interested in urban education work with them to progress through each stage of the writing process, including how to complete storyboards, develop their plots and characters, and edit their final drafts. At the end of each year, each sixth-grader goes home with his or her published and illustrated story.