If you were to think of books that students in the six-to-eight-year-old range should be reading in school, the Iliad would likely not be on your list. But Homer’s Greek epic poem is exactly what the College’s newly appointed Fenwick Scholar, Maia Lee-Chin ’21, is aiming to bring to the classrooms of Worcester this upcoming year. What’s more, the rising senior, who is also one of the College’s Bean Scholars, theorizes that there’s more to the lesson than teaching students about the Classics—she aims to understand the influence of exposure to the Classics at this formative time and its potential to catalyze students to begin reading and understanding more informational texts from a young age.
The College’s highest academic honor bestowed upon a student, the Fenwick Scholar spends their entire senior year researching, working closely with advisors, and producing a final product that culminates in a presentation to the community. As she starts out, we sat down with Lee-Chin—a Classics major and education minor—to learn more about her project and her goals for the year ahead.
Can you describe, in a nutshell, what your Fenwick Scholar project will be?
My proposal focuses on how Classics can engage with marginalized elementary-age students’ reading motivations to read non-fiction texts. I’m interested in two different perspectives: Classics and education. In Classics, I’m interested in the lack of access for marginalized people (low-socioeconomic status and underrepresented minorities) to the study of Classics. In education, my interest is the motivation of early elementary-age children to read informational texts. By studying both of these, schools and colleges alike can better understand the pedagogical effects that Classics has on children’s motivations to read. In the Fall 2020 semester, a randomized control study will track the students’ reading by type of text and length of reading. In the Spring 2021 semester, a curriculum centered around the Iliad will be introduced to one classroom and its effectiveness as a catalyst to read other informational texts will be measured.
How did you become interested in Classics as a major, and how did you make the connection between that and education?
My interest in Classics began as an interest in Egyptian mythology back in elementary school. Later on, I was accidentally placed in Latin 1 during my first year of high school. Latin made use of the power of language that I never thought was possible before. I took an independent study in Homeric Greek during my senior year of high school. I never really knew that I could study Classics in college until I stumbled upon the Bean scholarship at Holy Cross. I feel really lucky to go to a school that gives me numerous opportunities to pursue what I love.
The education component of my project came in because I noticed a lot of inequities in the field of Classics. I was one of the only people of color in the Classics department and the only Black woman who is majoring in Classics right now that I know. It made me think a lot about power and privilege. I think Classics has given me the tools to become a better thinker, a better writer, and a better scholar. Studying it in tandem with education allows me to think about the best ways to provide access to something that I am passionate about and also allows me to think about how to go about that process in a way that is anti-racist and intentionally decolonized. Combining Classics and education makes me think about my research in a way that is tangible and actionable.
How have your original plans for the project had to be adapted for the pandemic?
My original plan was to be observing a classroom for the fall semester—I would have had the chance to interview students about the book genres they like to read most and why to understand children’s reading motivations and find out if non-fiction is inherently less appealing to them. Given the pandemic, I’m working with my advisors and administration at City View Elementary School to monitor the situation and adjust accordingly. City View will be online for the first 10 weeks of the semester, so I will conduct interviews with students over Zoom. I also won’t have access to classroom libraries, so I am working with the school to provide students access to an online e-library, where students can access books from the library or that I buy for the classroom. While the pandemic has caused a lot of upheaval for my project, given the experiment uses human subjects, it has also offered an opportunity for me to adapt and innovate in ways that might benefit my project down the line.
How has your Holy Cross experience equipped you to be this year’s Scholar?
One of the best things about Holy Cross is the heights that professors will go to see you succeed. My three advisors, Professor Mary Ebbott, Professor Dominic Machado, and Professor Lauren Capotosto, all helped tremendously in my two-year-long writing and editing process of the proposal. Professor Ebbott has been a mentor since I began college, always offering me advice in many aspects of my life and support and resources within the Classics department. Professor Machado and I worked on his Latin 101 CBL component together, where I set up the infrastructure of my project, met with the superintendent of the Worcester Public School district and talked to school principals. I actually never had Professor Capotosto as a professor—I just sent an email off to her, and she graciously met with me and added so much value to my project. And that really speaks to my experience at Holy Cross: professors who want to know about your ideas and passions to help you succeed. Professors who got to know me early on in my academic career, like Professor Neel Smith, invited me to research opportunities like the Homer Multitext Project and working at the Center for Hellenic Studies. These experiences gave me the credentials to pursue an intensive project like the Fenwick. Holy Cross offers many opportunities to students that other colleges can’t— the chance to study closely with their professors as undergraduates and gain experience important to establishing themselves as scholars.
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