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Course Projects Have Personal Impact for Education Majors

Published: May 04, 2016
Grace Berardi ’18 created a project focused on mindfulness for her elementary school students.
Grace Berardi ’18 created a project focused on mindfulness for her elementary school students.

“I know a lot of you want to save the world. But I want to let you know that it’s okay if you only save one person. And it’s okay if that person is yourself.”

This is just one of the entries on the Humans of UT Facebook page, which was started for a class as a riff on Humans of New York, the popular blog featuring portraits and interviews of people the author finds on the streets of New York City.

In Humans of UT, Sarah DeTemple ’17, a secondary education-mathematics major, and Olivia Reeb ’18, a secondary social science education major, capture glimpses of the life of UT students. The quote about saving the world struck a chord with Reeb.

“I spend a lot of time trying to help people, trying to save people. Humans of UT actually started as an idea of how I could save people. I figured that if someone could read this page and realize that someone else felt the same way they did, they would feel less alone in their struggles,” Reeb said.

“I'm becoming a teacher because I want to save lives. But changing my major to education also saved my life. Becoming a teacher gives me purpose, my classes are teaching me how to be not only the best teacher I can be, but also the best person I can be. I am going to save lives I have no doubt. But because I believe that saving lives is my purpose, the person I am helping the most is myself.”

Humans of UT is just one of the projects that came out of Patricia O’Grady’s EDU 206 course, Human Development and Learning, where students had the option of building an experiential learning project in the community or on the UT campus.

“The intention is to connect the knowledge to the practice — to activate the cognitive learning with affective engagement,” said O’Grady, an associate professor of education, adding the exercise helps teach students to plan and execute independently or collaboratively, simulating workplace expectations, as well as “helps students identify their passion and translate it into action to nurture intrinsic motivation based on social emotional learning and positive psychology principles.”

Education majors were encouraged to develop a project that could be used in future classrooms or schools, or serve high needs students in some way.

“When Professor O'Grady assigned us the service-learning project, she asked us to think of one of our own passions and tie it into our project,” said Grace Berardi ’18, an elementary education major from Trumbull, CT.

Berardi immediately knew she wanted her project to involve the local elementary school where she has been working for almost two years as the assistant instructor of the HOST program, which provides before/after school and summer care. As one of the smaller HOST sites, Berardi has been able to connect with each student.

“What I noticed was that the students were having a hard time expressing their emotions. Whether they had a bad day at school or the night before, the students acted out as a way of expression,” Berardi said, explaining that they verbally or even physically fought with other students, talked back to staff or would just isolate themselves from the rest of the group. “I chose mindful meditation and yoga for my project as a way of teaching children a different medium for expressing emotions. Instead of instantly turning to anger and rage, I wanted to teach them a way to step back, process the emotion and then express it in a safe and beneficial way.”

Berardi said she wants a career at an elementary school in a high poverty district and this project opened her eyes “to how children living in low income homes have much more than just fifth grade drama to worry about.

“I got the opportunity to see firsthand how these life stressors affect these students every day in school,” she said. “I think this was a great experience for me to learn how to talk to kids about emotions, and I will work these strategies like the breathing and yoga exercises into my future classroom.”

O’Grady said the students develop and submit a formal proposal that had to be approved before work began. The students completed all the groundwork necessary to build the infrastructure of the project, created the curriculum, delivered the service and assessed the outcome/success. In addition, the students had to connect the project to learning theory, such as the mindfulness project connected to Maslow Hierarchy of Needs and the Humans of UT connected to Erikson Psychosocial Theory.

Projects were carried out at a number of locations around the county, including the Centre for Girls, Glazer Children’s Museum, Pepin Academy for Excellence and Mitchell Elementary School Bobcat Buddies. Other student work included developing enrichment activities including cultural dance, jazz, volleyball, fitness and cooking, all linked to academic tasks across all developmental domains.

“I'm an extremely outgoing person but this project truly did push me outside of my comfort zone,” said DeTemple, who helped create Humans of UT. “This project provided me with the opportunity to get to know people on campus I probably would have never talked to before, and I feel a lot more in touch to our UT community.”