October, 2017

Awarding about 10,000 bachelor’s degrees a year, private colleges and universities play a big role in educating Minnesota’s workforce, including many of our state’s teachers. But the education impact starts earlier: These institutions work with local school districts and community organizations to collaborate on meeting the needs of pre-K through 12th grade students.

Technology in the classroom

Out of a previous partnership with Kennedy Elementary school in St. Joseph, Minnesota, the College of St. Benedict and Saint John’s University (CSB/SJU) began leading professional development for teachers around using new technologies in the classroom. Teachers are engaging with new technologies every year, but sometimes lack the opportunity to be fully trained on how to best utilize it.

“This school year teachers have different topics they are sign up for, and Professor Diana Fenton is working with her students to go deeper into the pedagogical implication of these technologies,” said Theresa Johnson, Education Department chair. “Learning how to use the technologies was the first step; Professor Fenton is helping teachers learn new ways to teach with those tools in meaningful ways.”

This relationship with schools offers access to expertise that is in the community. Sometimes this expertise comes from third-party consultants who might be more interested in selling a product than its implementation, but by having two education intuitions collaborate they can focus on student outcomes.

“One of the most important outcomes is that we have teachers who see past the tool into meaningful learning,” Johnson said. “It’s important to step back from the bells and whistles of the technologies and see the bigger implications on teaching.”

Advancing pre-K

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Bethel University is also collaborating with local schools, but in a different way — Bethel is connecting undergraduate students with pre-K classrooms.

Part of Bethel’s early childhood education major is a licensure that includes applied learning. This applied learning has involved the on-campus Bethel child care center; more recently new relationships have been fostered with the St. Anthony-New Brighton and Roseville school districts.

“School districts can benefit from having more adults in their pre-K classrooms because of the nature of working with very young students,” said Jolene Pearson, Associate Professor and Director of Early Childhood Services at Bethel University. “Through our partnerships we can provide college students who are eager to gain experience working with young children, and the classroom teachers can share their passion for early childhood education.”

Learning outcomes are felt by the young students in the districts that partner with Bethel. “Our children are excited to see the practicum students and spend time with them in the classroom each week,” said Wendy Webster, director of early childhood services in the St. Anthony-New Brighton School District. “And our parents comment on the benefits of having practicum students in the classroom and often report how their children share stories at home about their time together.”

It also addresses a statewide need. “There is shortage of licensed early childhood professionals across the state,” Pearson said. “Through our partnerships we provide additional assistance in classrooms while our students gain real-world experiences — it’s a really unique opportunity for both groups.”

Out-of-school time learning

Hamline University’s McVay Youth Partnership is a unique relationship between Hamline and local church and community organizations, with students' out-of-school time learning as the focus.

The partnership engages 45 Hamline undergraduate students as McVay Fellows and Interns who provide homework help and opportunities for cooking, arts and crafts, recreation, and cultural programming at four sites in St. Paul.  The students who participate are in grades 5-12. McVay provides a place, outside of school, for them to learn and develop with the leadership of the Fellows and Interns.

“One of the most important aspects of the program is to have our Hamline Fellows be role models,” said Jane Krentz, the McVay youth partnership’s director. “We intentionally recruit a diverse cohort of Interns and Fellows — it’s really important that the students can see themselves in their mentors.”

"Many of the youth who attend the McVay Youth Partnership are refugees and immigrants, navigating multiple cultures,” Krentz said. "Many of our Fellows and Interns have this as a shared experience and can help guide the student through what can be a challenging situation.” 

Several of the McVay Youth Partnership participants even end up enrolling in Hamline and becoming McVay Fellows, a cycle that shows the importance of the program to the students.

By Tom Lancaster