Explore is an education field experience program that provides first year teacher-candidates with experience working with students early on. Started in the spring of 2011 in response to area schools’ need for volunteer tutors and mentors, the programs helps local school districts while at the same time giving aspiring teachers practical experience. Students entering SUNY Cortland to pursue careers in education can begin to get relevant experience starting in their first or second semesters. In order to do so, they can sign up for one of several teaching-oriented learning communities.
These learning communities are taught in the fall and spring of each semester and provide interested students with opportunities to learn while serving in area schools or other educationally-oriented settings (e.g., afterschool programs that focus on mentoring and tutoring; or evening programs such as Cortland Prevention Resources’ Homework Help). Participation in the Explore program is integrated into teacher education requirements and does not lengthen the time it takes to complete a degree.
Explore serves area school districts by helping them to meet their tutoring/mentoring and enrichment needs in areas such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and English Language Arts (ELA). Explore also helps to build more supportive and collaborative relationships with area schools while giving SUNY students broader opportunities to gain experience working in a classroom.
We have already had 81 student volunteers participate in the Explore program in the fall of 2013: 41 Education majors, 6 STEM-area majors, and 34 students in other fields of study. The students served at 13 area schools or agencies, five of which are designated as “Explore” partners. For spring 2014, 136 students have been placed at 18 sites. Many of these sites are within walking distance from campus, such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County’s 4-H Program and the Barry Elementary School’s After-School Program. For those that are farther away, such as the Virgil Elementary School’s After-School Tutoring Program, the Institute for Civic Engagement helps to support the program by providing transportation for SUNY Cortland students.
The students’ mentoring and tutoring activities are comprehensive and collaborative; students plan, conduct, assess, and reflect on lessons with school and agency supervisors. School and agency supervisors have responded very favorably to the program, describing it as “wonderful” and “fantastic”. The program clearly fills a need for additional support in the classroom and gives education majors the chance to apply learned skills early on.
The Institute also helps students to prepare for the socio-economic context of their tutoring through five Professional Development workshops. The workshops include the Poverty Stimulation event, which is held each semester. In this 3-hour role play workshop, students learn firsthand what it is like to try to survive on a poverty-level income. In other workshops, students learn what it means to be a professional in the field of education – from what one wears to how one conducts oneself in a professional environment. There is also attention on developing interpersonal skills, such as the ability to listen reflectively, along with the skills needed to be an effective mentor or tutor. An end-of-semester workshop helps students integrate these professional development activities and their service-learning experiences into their résumés.
For more information, please contact Mr. John Suarez, SUNY Cortland’s Service-Learning Coordinator at (607) 753 4391 or at John.Suarez@cortland.edu.