Mount Union College Education Students "Reaching Across the Sea"

April 15, 2010

When a family plans a vacation to an exotic island, they usually have no other intentions than to spend time on the beach, or explore an adventure in the waters. However, for Mount Union College's Dr. Pam Kimble, a professor in the Department of Education, one family vacation to the United States Virgin Islands was an opportunity to explore the possibility to return to the classroom.


Dr. Pam Kimble and two first grade students from Evelyn M. Williams Elementary

Kimble used a family vacation to create contacts and see if teaching in the Virgin Islands could possibly work, especially in a difficult environment where English is a second language and the proper learning materials are far less superior to that of the United States.

The idea became a reality when Kimble applied for a sabbatical to teach at Evelyn M. Williams Elementary in Frederiksted, United States Virgin Islands.

"My goal for the sabbatical was to have the experience of teaching in a primary grade classroom again," said Kimble. "As a teacher educator, I believe I need that experience again to keep in touch with the challenges of the current teachers and students."

Kimble's idea would give 14 first grade students the opportunity to receive personalized and individualized attention to assist their reading with the help from teacher candidates from Mount Union.

"The natural connection for this was with Deborah Walker since we had developed CE 355 together and the outcomes of that course so directly relate to teaching English language arts and reading to young children," she added.

The class titled Integrated Language Arts for Emergent Readers and Writers (CE 355), studies the theories of listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing and visual representations, and together Kimble and Walker, an instructor in the Department of Education at Mount Union, brainstormed ways that the teacher candidates could play a role in the project.

Senior education student Brittany Mirizio

With the help of a generous grant from the College titled Reaching Across the Sea, Kimble and Walker are now able, along with the teacher candidates from CE 355, to collaboratively create a learning environment to not only benefit the first grade students at Evelyn M. Williams Elementary, but the teacher candidates as well.

The grant includes the funds needed to purchase listening centers, materials needed to create individual learning centers, additional books to support the reading centers, and a high quality video conferencing center. The supplies will help the teacher candidates create learning activities for the first grade students.

The teacher candidates, working in pairs, have been assigned a student and a children's book on which to base their learning center. The centers also address the emergent reading needs of the students as assessed by Kimble's individual written prescriptions.

"One of the areas that our teacher candidates have a difficult time really experiencing is working with the challenges of English as a Second Language (ESL) students," said Kimble. "Making a connection between my first-grade classroom here and the teacher candidates at Mount would significantly enrich their experiences of planning for, teaching and evaluating diverse students."

Each student has different qualities and needs to which the project is tailored. For instance, if a student is consistently having trouble pronouncing certain sounds or comprehending certain vocabulary, the teacher candidates will develop a learning center to address the particular need using the theme of the books that are in their classroom.

"Since we know an area our assigned student needs work on, it will really be a good trial for us to see if what we are creating is working for the student," said Allison Brown, a junior honors student from Lisbon who also is assisting Kimble and Walker with the project.

Kimble and Deborah Walker with the first graders of Evelyn M. Williams Elementary

In addition, the most intriguing purchase with the grant money is a Polycom video conferencing center that offers real time television-like quality. The video system will allow for the teacher candidates and students to interact and engage in a learning environment from their own classrooms. The teacher candidates will be able to work with the students and observe their progress.

"A lot of times teacher candidates create projects that are only presented and seen by their peers," said Walker. "However, in this particular case, to actually see the students utilizing them is such a wonderful experience for our teacher candidates and gives them a purpose for their application of what they have learned in class."

"Not only were we able to see them, but they were also be able to see us," said Brown. "I am very excited that we will get to see the learning centers actually being used and that the children in the Virgin Islands will be able to benefit from the hard work that all of the teacher candidates have put into the this."

Not only will the video conferencing center be a great tool to use with Kimble's students in the Virgin Islands and Walker's teacher candidates at Mount Union. The Mount students will be able to view similarities and differences in an early childhood classrooms as they watch and observe Dr. Kimble teach and interact with her students. This system can also be used here in Ohio as well as other states to link with schools that are already using the technology.

"I'm so very excited for our students," said Walker. "After making connections with other classrooms and schools on the island, we will be able to do so much more and incorporate quality, meaningful projects into our entire education curriculum with this new system. Reaching Across the Sea is only one way that our teacher candidates can begin to see the importance of teaching "the child."

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