Borders in Play is a community-engaged learning project that, in the fall of 2017, brought together 45 5th grade school children from Columbia Elementary School with Kenyon students enrolled in SPAN 380 to explore key concepts in borderlands theory via the study and enjoyment of memorable children’s stories and poems.

This project was conceived as a way of bringing an academic disciplinary theme, borderland theories, into a real-life context. It examines how the notion of borders goes well beyond lines on a map and into many aspects of everyday life. It also explores how literature, in this case children’s stories and poetry can help us all negotiate the separations created by those borders.

Kenyon students followed a pedagogical model aimed at enabling skills that support literacy and learning, while at the same time exploring themes of “otherness,” difference and diversity, which often are part of the daily experiences of childhood. Importantly, the elementary school children also were exposed to Kenyon students as role models and friends.

For our Kenyon students, the project allowed them to frame issues such as socioeconomic differences, marginalization and borders from multiple perspectives and contexts, thus enriching their understanding of key concepts in borderland theory. It also offered them a window into how the academic endeavor can be applied to have a meaningful impact to improve local civic life. In this way, the approach followed in this project achieved the key pillar of community-engaged learning pedagogy, namely, the delivery of tangible, public good benefits to all parties engaged in the process.

Below, you can explore the materials created by the Kenyon students in the course of this project, including lesson plans, reflections, presentations, and a gallery.

Our main goal with the CEL project was to develop pedagogical skills to have a positive impact in our surrounding community, and I believe we have accomplished that. At the same time, my personal and professional character has been built upon, and I have been able to take my strong interest and dedication to studying Latinx literature and put it forward in community activism.

-- Eduardo Vargas '18‘10

From understanding the value of a role model to gaining insight into the mind of a young person, my experience at Columbia Elementary through the community engaged learning program taught me so much. At the core of my learning, I gained a more rounded knowledge of the complex array of borders that young children face and how these individual experiences can be brought to light through children’s literature, which allows for the vocalization of personal borders and borderlands.

-- Scout Crowell '20‘20

Largely through the study of border theory according to Gloria Anzaldúa and José León Portilla and the videos series detailing the Chicano Movement, I’ve learned that borders are embedded in structure in order to ensure the continual marginalization of submissive groups. Collective action plays a key role in fighting back against injustice. (…) The 5th grade students taught me about entirely different borders. Their reactions to the works that we studied gave me insight into the raw time of life that is the fifth grade. This project was an unbeatable way to step outside of my usual environment and see some new perspectives: both that of children and of a group that is more disadvantaged than myself and my peers.

-- Grace Pilz '19‘20


Browse the Borders in Play Collections:

Borders in Play Columbia Elementary Student Engagement

Borders in Play Culture Quilts

Borders in Play Gallery

Borders in Play Lesson Plans

Borders in Play Presentations

Borders in Play Reflections

Borders in Play Syllabus