by Sydney Beecher Contributing Writer
During the COVID-19 pandemic, students majoring in Elementary Education have been completing their practicums through placements in online programs and in-person placements.
All students majoring in Education must go through practicum, a combination of seminars and hands-on classroom experiences, in order to graduate within their program. The seminars are designed to teach students educational theories and practices that they can apply to their future classrooms. Students are also placed in a classroom in the Farmington region where they will spend up to 10 hours a week working with students and a mentor. The main goal of practicums are to bridge the gap between education courses and student teaching.
Because of the challenges COVID-19 presents to in-person learning, practicums have undergone a handful of changes in order to adjust to online learning. Ashley Clark, a junior majoring in Elementary Education and completing her practicum this fall, said one of the biggest changes that were made this year was the placement of students. “There wasn’t a lot of in-person placement,” she said. “Out of the 24 of us in my seminar, half of us were placed in Mallet [Elementary School] and the other half were placed in this new online academy.”
This online academy, which Clark was placed at, was introduced by the Mt. Blue Region for students whose parents did not want them attending in-person schooling.
Within the online academy, there are 12 advanced practicum students from UMF, teachers who will act as mentors, an administrator, and reading, writing, and math specialists from Mallet Elementary School. One of the biggest issues Clark worries about is the communication, as she believes she’ll have trouble effectively communicating through technology. “I asked to be placed in kindergarten,” Clark said, “so for me, it could mean that I join the classroom for morning meeting, I read a book out loud to them, or help students one-on-one if they’re having trouble.”
On the other hand, elementary education students who are completing their practicums in-person, such as senior Elise Guerrette, are attempting to adjust to the new reality of being in a classroom environment. “I had to wear a mask and face shield whenever I was closer than three feet to a student,” she said, “and it was hard to read facial expressions.” Guerrette, who was placed at Spruce Mountain Elementary School in Jay, also mentioned how bare the classroom was since most things had to be put away.
Despite all of the challenges and adjustment practicums face this semester, Guerrette feels that her unique practicum experience will benefit her in the long run. “My practicum experience will really help me in the future, especially since I am going to be teaching next year!” she said.
Taylor Burke Contributing Writer
Recently UMF faculty, students and community members participated in the UMF Read to ME event at W.G. Mallett School, where volunteers read to the elementary students as part of a state education initiative.
The Read to ME event is a state-wide challenge from the Department of Education that asks people to read to children for at least 15 minutes and post a picture or video of them reading with #ReadtoME in the caption to celebrate and spread a love of literacy to children across Maine.
Literacy Education Professor Kathryn Will was one of the primary organizers of the UMF Read to ME event at Mallett School. Once the volunteers arrived in the cafeteria, Will explained some logistics and how the volunteers would be split up amongst the students.
Shortly after, an announcement came over the intercom informing students that the guest readers were on their way to the classrooms. With that, the volunteers filed out the doors and scattered into the hallways.
Kaden Pendleton, a junior education major, read to a group of kindergarteners. He sat on a bench at the end of a hallway and students gathered around him with eager eyes. As he turned the pages, the kindergarteners were in awe of the illustrations displayed.
Pendleton is passionate about literacy and the connections between schools and their communities, which makes him an active supporter of the Read to ME event. “It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Everybody should read to children.”
When he heard about the need for volunteers for the event, he jumped on the opportunity. “Reading to children is so important,” he said. “They want to hear the stories that you have to tell them. Even if it’s a book they’ve heard before, it’s a different voice.”
Classrooms were buzzing with students eager to meet and listen to their guest readers. Principal Tracy Williams observed this as she circulated throughout the building. “The kids are really excited and attentive,” she said.
Kaden Pendleton reading to children. Photo Courtesy of Ryan Mastrangelo.
She sees the event as a positive literacy experience. “I think it’s good for kids to see other community members and college students and adults from out in the community who they see acting on reading and really enjoying it,” she said.
Williams helped organize Read to ME at the Mallett School, but attributes much of the leg work to Will, who sent out a call for readers throughout the community and created an online page where volunteers could sign up to attend. She looked at the page the night before the event and only had 14 volunteers. However, the next day she had 39 people coming in to volunteer. This made the organization a little tricky due to the quick logistic changes that needed to be made on the day of the event.
This is Will’s fourth year organizing the event. She hopes that students and volunteers find joy and delight in participating. Will explained that the moments students have with readers aren’t complex but have a positive impact. “You can make the difference in the life of a child in reading to them for 15 minutes,” she said.
One of Will’s favorite parts of the event is the connections that can be made between people and the community. She described an experience at the event when a teacher showed interest in having Will return to read to her class. “I love those moments where people have opportunities to connect with ways in which they can contribute to the community,” she said. “And that’s the whole point of Read to ME.”
Abbie Hunt Contributing Writer
Sophomore Kolby Boulgier and Freshman Brenna Saucier are replacing their exams in PSY 235: Introduction to Counseling with the experience of mentoring elementary school students. Boulgier is mentoring a young girl through the Lunch Buddy program and at W.G. Mallett Elementary School once a week and Saucier is taking a different route and mentoring a little boy at the pool every week.
Dan Seabold, a professor of psychology and the Intro to Counseling class instructor, encourages students to use volunteering in the Mount Blue School system as an opportunity to practice the skills they are learning in class. “I have always believed that it’s important for students to gain professional experience,” he said. “We can’t build confidence without real experience.”
Seabold allows students to use their mentoring experience as a grade booster or extra credit. “[Students] can use the grade from this to replace an exam,” he said.
He believes that the application of working with real people is more beneficial than just remembering information for a test. “Application helps with retaining skills and knowledge,” he said. He requires students who are choosing to mentor a student through a program such as the Lunch Buddies to keep a reflection journal on their own insights and questions.
Not only is this helping psychology students gain real life experience, they are making a difference in a child’s life in addition to helping them grow. “It gives these kids a sense of self-esteem and value,” Seabold said. “It gives them developmental assistance in a non-threatening way,”
Seabold sees the impact of this mentorship in the way the kids look forward to meeting with their mentors. “They want their mentor,” he said. It makes other students who do not have a mentor also want one.
When Boulgier first heard that participating in the Lunch Buddy program could be an exam replacement, she applied to be a Lunch Buddy through the Mallett Elementary School. “I didn’t hear [back] for four weeks,” she said. “I was very nervous I would have to take an exam.”
Boulgier laughed and put her hands to her face as she explained her first encounter with a group of elementary school teachers. “I went to the second floor and instead of turning right, I went straight,” she said. “I walked past a room full of teachers.” She ended up having to interrupt a meeting to ask for directions to her buddy’s classroom.
When Boulgier finally met the student she would be mentoring, there was an instant liking to one another. “She’s adorable,” she said. “She’s like me when I was a kid.”
After the introductions, Boulgier and her buddy set out for the cafeteria to eat lunch, where they met more enthusiastic and eager Mallett students. “They were telling stories to me non-stop,” Boulgier said. “They were so excited and they kept talking about Minecraft.”
At recess, the young girl led Boulgier around the playground to show her the slides and monkey bars. “You’re making bonds with kids, and they’re going to tell you everything,” Boulgier said.
Instead of mentoring a student through the Lunch Buddy program, Saucier got permission to work with a young boy taking swimming lessons at the pool because it fit into her schedule better, and as she already a certified Water Safety Instructor. “It is very nice to take an hour a week and just separate from the world to work with a kid,” she said in an email interview. “He and his parents were some of my favorite people so they wanted to continue lessons and then we coordinated doing this project. He is one of the cutest kids I know.”
Saucier wants to be a good influence on the boy, and she appreciates watching him gain more confidence as she works with him on different skills. “He is super sweet and is so active. He is always happy and can always make himself laugh and I am fascinated by him,” she said.
To become a Lunch Buddy and learn more about the program, go to http://getconnected.volunteermaine.org/agency/detail/?agency_id=56936.