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New project-based course examines the history of poverty in York

June 11, 2019
Professor Corey Brooks stands at podium to give presentation.

For the past two months, students in Dr. Corey Brooks’ class have been wading through old documents and combing the internet to weave together a history of poverty in York.

You might find his students among the collections at the York County History Center, fingering through old records of the United Way of York, in a corner at the York County Archives, or hunched over a computer, searching newspaper archives online.

It’s the first semester of this new class at York College. If it goes well, Dr. Brooks’ Policy and History in York class could make a difference not only in the students who are taking it, but also in the community where they live.

More than a model

The idea for the class is based on a national organization. The National History Center in Washington, D.C., is a non-partisan group. It brings expert historians to Capitol Hill to brief policy makers and their staffs on the history of the political issues.

The organization offers a framework for a mock policy briefing for educators to use. It gave Dr. Brooks a different idea.

Instead of researching a national issue and creating theoretical histories, why not focus on a real issue affecting the community in which they live and deliver findings to local policy-makers?

“Students aren’t just learning how policy is made,” Dr. Brooks says, “they’re learning about the unique considerations that face the City of York, and I think that’s valuable.” 

Digging deep

Early on in the semester, experts came into the class to talk about different issues facing the city. After, the students collectively decided which issue they wanted to focus their research on.

It was no contest: Poverty was the number one issue students wanted to address. It’s a problem that’s linked to so many other challenges — from high quality education to health care to racial equity — it all comes back to poverty.

From there, they identified areas of interest and went out into the world to work.

At every turn, the students steered the ship. Dr. Brooks was there to guide and help them when necessary, but the goal of this kind of project-based learning is that it’s student driven and directed.

“This models how you conduct serious research, but then take it to solve, address, or inform a more immediate problem,” he says.

Real impact

The research won’t read like a textbook. It will be a story, woven from newspaper accounts, statistics, anecdotes, and historical policy and context.

Importantly, it will be non-partisan.

“I think if we’re going to make the most thoughtful policy decisions, we need to have an awareness of what came before,” Dr. Brooks says.

This project is doing just that — taking a focused look at poverty in York through a historical lens.

Once complete, the students will present their research to area policy-makers and community members.

“The students are going to have the ear of some people who really influence how poverty policy is made,” Dr. Brooks says.

He’s hopeful that those policy-makers will come with open-ears and may learn something from the students.

He’s hopeful that the students gain valuable professional experience as researchers.

And he’s hopeful that, if all goes well, this class won’t be a one-off, but will be repeated another semester to contextualize some other issues facing the York community through that historical lens.

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