Although most students were anxious to be finished with school at the end of the spring semester, eight College of Education students decided they weren’t quite finished yet. They applied and were accepted to participate in the service learning experience at San Miguel Back of the Yards Campus the week of May 9. Along with Dr. Pamela Jessee, Interim Associate Dean; Mrs. Joan Williams, Director of Advising; Mr. Dick Clish, Assistant Professor in Secondary Education; and Dr. Barbara Mackey, Associate Professor in Educational Leadership, these eight students spent four days learning about this extraordinary school and the faculty, students, and families that make up the San Miguel community.
The Back of the Yards Campus is located at 1949 W. 48th St., in Chicago. It opened in 1995 and serves approximately 80 Latino students in grades 6 through 8. San Miguel specifically targets academically underachieving, low income, at risk students and provides them with a model of education that includes an extended day schedule and a year-round calendar, individualized instruction with a 10:1 student teacher ratio, and strong parental involvement. Students are accepted into San Miguel based on three main criteria: academic underperformance, financial need, and living in proximity to the school.
Welcoming the College of Education group to the school were Mr. Mike Anderer-McClelland, President & Executive Director of San Miguel Schools Chicago; Assistant Principal Mrs. Allison Orbin; 6th grade teacher Mr. John Kennedy-Farrell; and 7th grade teacher Ms. Kristina Anderson.
“What a great way this was to end the school year!” said Marie Ryan, Special Education graduate student. “After everything I have learned in my classes at Lewis this year, participating in the service learning trip to San Miguel allowed me to see first-hand how much students benefit from having teachers that are passionate about what they are doing and the pride they take in the success of their students.”
College of Education students had the opportunity to interact with the students, faculty, and staff of the school. They observed in the classrooms, taught a lesson, read with the students, ate lunch with the students and even played soccer, softball and dodge ball with the students. In addition, the College of Education group brought several boxes of school supplies and sports equipment that had been donated by Lewis students, faculty, staff, members of Christ Community Church of Plainfield and CenterPointe Church in Plainfield, and the Angels R Watching Foundation of Will County.
Marie Ryan’s favorite part of each day was reading one on one with the students. “It was so powerful to feel their excitement about reading and be able to see the stories through their eyes,” she said. “I hope that I am able to pass along that type of excitement about learning to my students when I am in the classroom.”
COE students assigned to the sixth grade classroom worked on a poetry book project with the class. The lesson plans were developed by Jennifer Sitar, Special/Elementary Education major and then shared with the other COE students in the class. The lesson was based on the writings of Mattie Stepanek, a boy who began writing at the age of 3 and died of a rare form of muscular dystrophy at the age of 13. Helping each of the 6th graders write a poem about them and draw a picture to accompany it were COE students Kristen Calvert (Special/Elementary Education major), David Nykiel (Secondary Education graduate student) and Kimberly Jurani. The poems and pictures were collected. This summer they will be made into a book that will be given to the 6th grade class.
“The experience of San Miguel left me with much to think about,” said Kimberly Jurani. “I was so struck by how different their school is. I find it hard to believe any other classroom will ever measure up to their methods. I most appreciated the mutual respect between teacher and student and the consistent effort on the part of the faculty to foster long term relationships with the students. These long term relationships ensure success on the part of the students to go on to become college graduates. “I very much liked the environment the school provided for the students,” continued Ms. Jurani, “with regard to brightly colored walls and classrooms, many living plants, beautiful paintings, and comfortable couches for them to read on. This made such a difference!”
The lesson plan for the 7th grade classroom was developed by Marie Ryan and will culminate in a quilt comprised of poems and drawings done by the 7th grade class. Those assisting in the 7th grade classroom were Kelly Reimer (Secondary Education graduate student), Christina Salvador (Special Education graduate student), and Jackie Argenbright (Math/Secondary Education major).
“Through participation in the San Miguel experience, I can clearly see how, as a teacher, understanding multiculturalism within the classroom is essential to the success of your students”, said Jennifer Sitar. “Every morning can bring a new challenge. How we are able to interpret the situation and react to it can dictate the rest of the day. Seeing this first hand has helped me to understand how to fit the College of Educations three core principles into my teaching practices.”
“This experience at San Miguel changed my life,” said David Nykiel. “The students were a lot of fun to work with. I know I learned more from them than they learned from me. These students know what kind of neighborhood they live in and strongly believe education is the best way to improve their lives and community.”
The David Darst Center, located in the Bridgeport neighborhood, was the “home base” for the College of Education group. Students and faculty prepared and ate meals together, took time each evening to pray and reflect on their experiences, and had some fun playing board games.