When a two-year branch campus of a university merged with a two-year technical college to become South Arkansas Community College, community outreach became an important part of the new institution's mission. Through the creation of two literary magazines, one directed at high school studentsl and the other soliciting works by writers aged 18 and older, the college was able to involve high school students, their families and teachers, community members of varied ages and interests, and college students, faculty and staff in writing, music, and art activities on campus. Such community service projects meet needs that are common across the country and may serve as models to other college English faculties who want to tap the creative resources in their own commuities.
Community colleges, if they are to serve their many constituencies, must continually reach out to new audiences while encouraging ever more interaction with those traditionally served. At South Arkansas Community College (SouthArk) in El Dorado, Arkansas, the addition of two literary magazines and annual public celebrations of their publication involve high school students and their families, senior citizens, high school teachers and community members who had not previously interacted with the college in writing, reading, art and music activities on campus. Such activities also benefit the community college students and are readily adaptable to any campus with a core group dedicated to community outreach through arts education.
The College's first literary magazine project began as part of the institution's attempt to redefine itself after a two-year university branch campus merged with a two-year technical college to become a free-standing community college with its own board of trustees and a small local tax base. The new vice president of instruction wanted to build strong institutional ties with the community. Besides the city and county historically served, the new service area now included five additional counties in south central Arkansas and three parishes in north central Louisiana. What could the college do to reach out to the community in ways that would support the institutional mission and enrich the lives of the people in the community?
Since many students who come to SouthArk from local high schools have very little writing experience and poor writing skills, fifty percent have to take at least one developmental writing course before freshman composition. English faculty decided that an outreach program could help local high school English teachers understand the importance of regular, sustained writing practice for college preparation. If the program could give them some strategies for writing practice without burying the high school faculty in paperwork, it would help SouthArk and its students in the long run.
When the two schools merged, the word university was dropped from the name. SouthArk feared losing to four-year schools some of the graduating high school seniors it normally attracted. The search began for positive ways to remind area students that the college still has a complete transfer program and to bring them to campus for recruiting purposes.
The idea of a high school writing contest with cash prizes and a literary magazine to publish the winners appealed to members of the English department. English faculty decided to write a set of contest rules, editorial guidelines and submission requirements; seek approval and funding from the administration; and present the idea to the high school English teachers. The college administration agreed to fund the contest and magazine the first year.
Planning a contest and a magazine
The group of teachers, principals and college faculty agreed that poetry, personal essays and short fiction were appropriate literary genres for the contest. It decided cash prizes should be awarded in two divisions-a junior division for 9th and 10th grades and a senior division for 11th and 12th grades-with awards in the amounts of $100, $75, and $50 for first, second, and third place winners; and honorable mentions would also be published. …