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CUTLINE ... READING TIME -- Southeastern Louisiana University Jumpstart corps member Jessica Jenkins of Amite reads a story to, from left, Southeastern Head Start students Keah Thomas, Shacora McGee, Lexie Bowers and Caitlyn Viola. Southeastern will use service learning opportunities such as Jumpstart to give future teachers more crucial real-world experience.
GRANT TO PROVIDE "REAL WORLD" EXPERIENCE FOR FUTURE TEACHERS
HAMMOND - The push is on and the message is clear: now is the time to improve teacher preparation.
Whether it's Louisiana's Blue Ribbon Commission on Teacher Quality or new standards mandated by national accrediting agencies, universities today are under pressure to develop better-qualified elementary and secondary teachers. And a primary goal in curriculum redesign is to get teachers-in-training into the classroom and under the care and guidance of veteran teachers as early as possible in their educational careers.
One way to give future teachers more crucial real-world experience, says Southeastern Louisiana University's College of Education and Human Development, is through service learning.
The university has been awarded a $147,946 grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents to identify and coordinate service learning opportunities for education majors.
"The state and agencies such as the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education are placing considerable emphasis on redesign of teacher preparation programs to ensure that teachers are well prepared before walking into classrooms," said Southeastern President Randy Moffett, a former dean of the College of Education and Human Development. "A service learning component that is implemented even before student teaching begins will increase the number of hours that students work in the field. It gives them a realistic view of what they can anticipate in the classroom and other environments, as well as what is expected of them."
"Service learning involves more than volunteering to work in schools or community agencies," said Cynthia Elliott, associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning and the principal investigator for the grant. "Service learning should be tied to a specific course that allows the student to reflect on how classwork translates into actual experiences. By combining what the student learns in class with practical applications, we connect the theory presented in the classroom to actual conditions they will face as teachers."
The grant targets two major groups of Southeastern students for participation in the project: incoming freshmen seeking a degree in teacher education any teacher education candidate enrolled in content knowledge courses in the College of Arts and Sciences.
As part of the grant, Southeastern is creating a new course, "Service Learning Practicum in Early Childhood Education," Elliott said. "This new course allows students who are considering teaching or working with pre-school children the opportunity to participate in field-based experiences early in their academic careers. The course is closely tied to achievement needs of preschool children."
Southeastern has had a long history of service learning, starting with the Connections program initiated by biology instructor and wetlands ecologist Michael Greene. Connections is a collaborative program between the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education and Human Development intended to provide stimulating and exciting interdisciplinary learning experiences for students. Connections' original focus was in science and mathematics; it has expanded to include many other disciplines including visual arts, music, history and government, English, education, and foreign languages.
Elliott said students participating in the project may be working in area schools and in programs such as Head Start and Jumpstart, a service learning program that recruits, trains and pairs college students with preschool children in early learning programs. Southeastern incorporated Jumpstart into its Early Literacy Initiative last year and is one of only 16 universities nationwide sponsoring the program.
Education students who are taking content courses in the College of Arts and Sciences may meet their service learning requirements in other settings, said Linda Munchausen, professor of chemistry and coordinator of education initiatives in the College of Arts and Sciences.
"The College of Arts and Sciences at Southeastern has traditionally fostered a close relationship with the College of Education and Human Development, because we provide much of the content courses that these future teachers need," Munchausen said. "This grant will allow us to incorporate and coordinate some of the service learning activities already conducted in the college into the teacher preparation program.
"For example, a student who is planning to become a high school chemistry teacher may be placed in an area school and work with those teachers in organizing their chemical storage or preparing materials for classes," Munchausen added. "They may perform some tutoring with students or assist a teacher in conducting labs. Others may be working in parish agencies, doing water analysis, assisting in a recycling program, or helping to design or build a nature trail. The whole intent is to take knowledge gained in the classroom and apply it in the field. It's a win-win situation. Students get the opportunity to work in a real-world environment; schools and other organizations benefit from student assistance at no cost."
A major component of the grant includes developing a database of field-based settings for service learning and establishing an Office of Service Learning at Southeastern. In addition, the university is accepting through July 10 applications for a program coordinator. Information on the position is available on Southeastern's web site, www.selu.edu.
"The coordinator will help identify and coordinate all service learning opportunities for courses offered through the College of Education and Human Development as well as the College of Arts and Sciences, one of our primary partners in this venture," Elliott said.
She said the grant would enable Southeastern to expand its partnerships with community agencies and schools in area parishes such as Tangipahoa, St. Tammany, Washington, Livingston, and East Baton Rouge and possibly in other regions as well. Southeastern already maintains student teaching programs in these and other school districts and hopes to add the service learning component as an additional teacher preparation tool.
"The coordinator will play a major role in helping to build and maintain these relationships in the community," Elliott said.
One of the initial participants in the service learning project is expected to be Midway Elementary School in Natalbany. Midway currently partners with Southeastern by offering student teaching opportunities and professional development programs such as the university's Teacher Scholars program, a fast-track master's program that pairs new teachers with mentors to ease the transition into classroom teaching.
"We would certainly welcome these students because it fits our philosophy and mission to get prospective teachers into the schools as soon as possible," said Midway principal Ginger Daughdrill, who has spent 29 years as a teacher and principal. Currently Midway partners with Southeastern as a professional development school. Prospective teachers enrolled in several Southeastern courses receive both theory and practice on the Midway campus.
"It's a reciprocal relationship that enhances both the student and our school," she said. "The students are a morale boost to our own teachers, because they provide help for already-busy teachers, while the students gain a view of what it's like in an actual classroom. They see what's involved in being a teacher, including class preparation and classroom management. Some students will see that teaching is not for them and may move into another discipline early in their college careers. For those who elect to stay in education, the new service learning component can only help in providing a student with more experience and better preparation before he or she assumes a class of their own."