Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Diversity Day gives elementary students exposure to world culture

Michael Swett stands before a table of sixth-grade students from Chandler Traditional Academy’s Humphrey campus overseeing their painting as he tells them about Italy’s famous artists. It’s Diversity Day: Passport to the World, a service-learning project for Chandler-Gilbert Community College students taking the Cultural Diversity in Education class.

Swett is pursuing a teaching degree and the project, which has brought more than 70 students to the campus, gives him a first-hand glimpse into what the career entails.

“Without field experience, I can only envision what I think might happen in an elementary classroom.” said Swett, who has been attending CGCC part-time for two years. “The service-learning projects introduce us to the true experience as well as the nuances in teaching that don’t appear in textbooks.”

Taylor Sinodis, a third-year student pursuing her associate degree in elementary education, introduces the fifth graders to Spanish culture by helping them make castanets and demonstrating the flamenco. Her two teacher partners have also prepared lessons for the one-hour class.

“The service-learning projects have influenced me greatly.” said Sinodis. “They provide insight to the classroom environment, by allowing future teachers to experience students in various situations. The knowledge I have gained from all of my service learning experiences will benefit my future teaching career.”

According to Sharon Fagan, education faculty at CGCC, this is exactly the reason service-learning projects are required in every class in the education program at CGCC. Each semester, a student will spend a minimum of 20-30 hours working in a classroom.

“The benefit is two-fold. It gives our students the opportunity to practice as teachers and apply what they have learned in class, and it also enriches the curriculum of the participating elementary school, since the lessons have to align with the standards of the school,” said Fagan, who coordinates eight to 10 similar special service learning projects annually.

The service-learning projects in the education courses are one example of how service-learning has been integrated into the college culture. For the past seven years, CGCC has been named to the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal recognition an institution can receive for its commitment to community service. CGCC has twice received the award “with distinction,” acknowledging those colleges that display strong levels of institutional commitment and have partnerships that produce a measurable impact in the community. CGCC is currently the only community college in Arizona to hold this designation.

“It is amazing to be part of an institution where serving our communities has been an explicit value for 20 years, where faculty engage students in the high-impact practice of service-learning and students experience deep learning through active engagement in their curriculum.” said Alison Whiting, service-learning coordinator.

The program has made the difference for Swett. “Service-learning was the decision maker for me to pursue an education degree,” said Swett, who has attended both Hofstra and Arizona State University. “I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, but after getting exposure to working with children, I knew teaching was a fit for me.”

To learn more about CGCC’s service-learning program visit www.cgc.edu/servicelearning or call 480- 857-5274.

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