Early Morning Enrichment Enhances Learning

Published: Nov 1, 2013
Katie Vail ’17, standing, works with a group of Rampello students in the inventors club making a paper box robot.
Katie Vail ’17, standing, works with a group of Rampello students in the inventors club making a paper box robot.

At 7 a.m. on the first Friday in November, the sun isn’t up, but 43 University of Tampa students are.

They rose in the dark to come to Rampello Downtown Partnership School to lead the 10-week enrichment course the elementary students have elected to participate in the 45 minutes before school starts.

From Lego construction to law enforcement education to animation, the students participate in one of 10 special interest courses that not only play on the students’ passions but help them develop leadership, team building and problem-solving skills.

The UT students started with little more than a topic, like yoga, and had to come up with a curriculum for the 10 weeks. Traditionally, undergraduates in the elementary education program don’t get inside the classroom until their junior year and that’s just for observation.

“This is immersion learning,” said Patty O’Grady, assistant professor of education. “It also helps them know if this is the field they really want to be in. It gives them a true understanding of what it’s like to be a teacher.”

Katie Vail ’17 had doubts after that first day of the program, feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about what she had gotten herself into with the inventors club. Now, she’s created a routine and camaraderie with the students that keep her coming back.

“It’s been an awesome experience to be a part of watching their growth,” said Vail, an elementary education major, now certain she wants to be an elementary school teacher.

Christina Leal ’13, a history major and education minor, teaches the law enforcement club. A Marine Corps veteran whose dad was a law enforcement officer, this club just seemed like the right fit. The students ask all kinds of questions, including about her life in the military.

“I’ve been surprised by the enthusiasm of the kids,” said Leal, who wants to be an educator. “They’ve really gotten into it.”

The enrichment program is relatively new at Rampello, piloted in the fall of 2012 with 45 gifted and talented students and has grown to about 250 first through fifth graders from throughout the school.

“There is so much testing and curriculum that consumes the day they often don’t get to explore their passions,” said Steve Haberlin, teacher with the elementary gifted program at Rampello coordinating the effort with O’Grady. “This gives them at least one day a week to do that.”

O’Grady’s research coincides with Haberlin’s teaching philosophy “that combines the theory and practice of gifted education, affective neuroscience and positive psychology using academic enrichment clusters or clubs to infuse academics into project-based and authentic learning,” writes O’Grady in Psychology Today.

“All the research says to use a more integrated approach with project-based and student-driven learning for better academic success,” O’Grady said.

Not only are UT students involved in experiential learning, but they are facilitating the same for the elementary students, which is enriching for all. 

Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer 
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