Centre student teachers learn lessons across the nation and around the world
August 22, 2013 By Mariel Smith
La Palma school in Costa Rica.
Rebecca Kelley outside Little Wound tribal school in South Dakota.
While Centre students may be known for studying across the country and the globe, this summer, Britany Neal ’15 and Rebecca Kelly ’15 traveled to teach instead. Their pupils were not the only ones learning lessons—both women gained valuable career experience and inspiration as well.
As a Bonner scholar, Neal is required to participate in two summers of service.
"I was lucky enough to get approval to do my work in Costa Rica," she says. "Professor Genny Ballard helped me plan what service I would be doing while there, and we decided on teaching ESL at one of the nearby schools."
Ballard gave Neal full responsibility for assembling volunteers from the study abroad group, coordinating with teachers at La Palma school near Colorado, Costa Rica, to plan the necessary activities and order materials and leading the service project on site.
The original plans Neal made were for a group of students to volunteer with her teaching English to children and adults for 10 days.
"The plans changed the first day the group arrived in Colorado," Neal explains. "Our on-site program coordinator, Maribel, informed us that La Palma needed a group like us to help with a different project."
The project involved mask-making for a fall festival celebrating important political and cultural figures of Costa Rica.
"Since this is what the school needed help with at the moment, we gladly helped with the project and taught English if we had any spare moments," Neal says.
While Neal was in Costa Rica for a month, she only had 10 days in the area, so she worked to plan as much in advance as possible. Once there, her group helped teach children how to construct papier mache masks overtop of balloons.
"My favorite part of the project was working with the children, getting to talk to them and learn what their schools and lives are like," Neal says. "On the last day, after we had finished as much as we could on the project, we decided to teach them a game and a few English words with "Duck Duck Goose." This was a great way to end our time there; it was so much fun to see the kids enjoying the game and interacting with us."
For Neal, though her time in Costa Rica was short, it inspired her to continue pursuing volunteer opportunities in Merida, Mexico, where she'll be studying abroad next semester. The service trip also builds toward her career plans of pursuing physical therapy or nursing.
"This trip developed my Spanish conversation skills, which can be difficult to do in a classroom setting where the language is only being spoken for an hour to an hour and a half," she explains. "These skills will definitely benefit me in my future career in the healthcare industry."
Neal was not the only one who gained valuable career experience; Kelly's summer teaching stint at Little Wound School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota benefitted her immensely as well. The reservation is home to the Oglala Lakota tribe, and Little Wound is a tribal school that offers Lakota language courses and observes tribal holidays.
Kelly found this school through her sister, Katelin, who has been teaching at Little Wound Middle School for the past two years through the Teach For America program.
"Kate connected me to the Summer School Coordinator, and before I knew it, I was driving across the country for the first session in June," Kelly says.
Kelly worked with 6th, 7th and 8th graders, co-teaching a career and college class with Dean of Students Linda Herman. The class asked students to plan for their futures, hosting guest speakers from local companies and taking field trips to area colleges and businesses.
A highlight of this part of the summer was a trip to Western Dakota Technical Institute and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
"It was so exciting to see my students' faces light up when they saw a fully decked-out science lab, and then again when they saw that the gym had an indoor pool and again when they saw how many options there were in the cafeteria," she says. "College became a tangible place as opposed to this idea that we had been talking about in class. It was great to see them excited about an idea we had talked about so much."
During the second half of the summer, Kelly co-taught reading and language arts with Gloria Randall, middle school special education coordinator. The class aimed to maintain or improve students' reading level.
The summer was an intensely rewarding experience for Kelly, who says it reaffirmed that teaching was her passion and calling.
"Since there are many Teach For America corps members at Little Wound School, and I lived in teacher housing all summer, I was surrounded by people dedicated to providing quality education for children," she explains. "I am a firm believer that a quality teacher can make a great difference in a child's life, and this belief has only deepened with my time at Little Wound School."
For Kelly, this summer's experience is just one in a long line during her time at Centre that has prepared her for a career in education.
"Centre has given me many opportunities to explore my interest in education," she says. "Over CentreTerm of 2012, I took an education class with Dr. Sarah Murray in Ghana. While my experience in Ghana was quite different from my experience in South Dakota—class size in Ghana was over 80, while in Little Wound, class size was about 12—it gave me valuable classroom experience and taught me to be flexible and patient as a teacher."
Tutoring for the ESL After School Program at Centre during the academic year honed Kelly's one-on-one teaching skills, which she has been using continuously at Little Wound.
"The opportunities that Centre has given me have been vital to the success of my teaching experience," she says.
Centre College, founded in 1819, offers its students a world of opportunities, highlighted by the nation's premier study abroad program and a faculty ranked #5 in the nation for "Best Undergraduate Teaching" at a liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report. Centre graduates enjoy extraordinary success, with entrance to top graduate and professional schools, prestigious fellowships for further study abroad (Rhodes, Rotary, Fulbright), and rewarding jobs (on average, 97 percent are employed or in advanced study within 10 months of graduation).