Dr. Paul (Joe) Ramsey was struggling with his undergrads. Ramsey, an assistant education professor at Eastern Michigan University, wasn’t seeing his students making the proper connections in his SOFD 328-W class, Schools for a Diverse and Democratic Society.
“My class talks about theories and politics. It’s one thing to read in a textbook about how culture or family circumstances can affect a child’s ability to get an education or how national legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act can change classroom procedures, but it’s something different to actually see it,” Ramsey said.
This semester, Ramsey is trying something new. He teamed up with EMU’s Academic Service Learning Department and Bright Futures, a state grant-based mentoring program for kids of low-income families to get homework help and academic enrichment after school. Ramsey is requiring his undergrads to volunteer a minimum of 20 hours with Bright Futures and to keep a journal of their experiences.
“I’m hoping my students can make connections through Bright Futures on topics from class. But I secretly also want them to get more hands-on classroom experience before they have to fulfill their student teaching requirements, and this can help them do that,” Ramsey said.
Sam Froomkin, the site coordinator for Bright Futures, agrees spending one-on-one time with the kids gives undergrads a different experience that will help them with their future classrooms.
“Some of these undergrads haven’t spent much time with kids in a classroom setting. A program like Bright Futures allows them to ‘cut their teeth’ in a more relaxed environment. Here, college kids can play games and be goofy,” Froomkin said.
Froomkin, who has been with Bright Futures since it started three years ago, said he has had many undergrads from EMU and the University of Michigan volunteer for the program.
“Volunteering for a program, like Bright Futures, allows students to get involved with kids on their own terms; they can pick their level of involvement. They can sit back and observe or they can run a game. But it also allows them to draw connections from their own classes. The state grant that pays for Bright Futures came from the No Child Left Behind Act,” Froomkin said.
A positive side-effect of having EMU volunteers is these middle-schoolers from Wayne, Westland and Willow Run school districts get the chance to meet college students. Many of these kids come from low-income homes and never thought about college before.
“Whenever we have EMU and U of M volunteers, I always ask them to wear their college T-shirts when they come. It puts the idea of higher education in these kids’ minds. They start thinking ‘Hey, he goes to Michigan’ or ‘She’s a college student at Eastern. Maybe I could be too,’ ” Froomkin said.
Ramsey isn’t sure if this new idea of volunteering will have the outcome he hoped for his students, but feedback so far has been positive.
“Once the students started actually completing their volunteer hours, I started hearing how much fun they were having with the kids,” Ramsey said.
If the undergrads are able to make more connections from his lectures, Ramsey said he would add the volunteer component to more of his classes next semester.