Her classmate, Christian, agrees, adding, “I can learn to read about airplanes and dirt bikes. Airplanes and dirt bikes are so cool.”
Once a week during their semester-long course, the students in Dr. Patricia Calderwood’s Explorations in Education class drove a few miles and a world away to Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla elementary school, where they were partnered with young students. “We worked with four students, in groups of two at a time, to develop their literacy knowledge and to help raise their DRA [Developmental Reading Assessment] levels,” said Jessica Giordano’12. “The DRA is a mandatory test, administered three times a year, to elementary school students in grades K-2 to assess their reading level and reading skills. We read books with the students, completed worksheets, and just talked to get to know them on a personal level.” Giordano is enrolled in the five-year integrated B.A./M.A. Teacher’s Certification program.
The relationship between Fairfield’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions and the Cesar Batalla school was organic, “a true combination of needs and resources,” said Melissa Quan, director of service learning. “The principal at Cesar Batalla contacted Bridgeport’s School Volunteer Association for help in meeting their literacy goals about the same time I contacted them looking for a partner willing to accommodate a large number of our students.”
Cesar Batalla employs just one literacy coach for the 1200 students in the K-8 school, “so the time and attention our students were able to give was very helpful,” noted Dr. Calderwood.
Fairfield students are required to post to a discussion board regularly and collaborate on the educational context of their experiences. A reflection paper at the end of the semester encourages them to explore how their ideas about school and education have changed. In their assessment this semester, “our students actually asked to add a lab component next time, so they would have more time to spend in the classroom as well as time to spend with the children in a less formal setting,” said Dr. Calderwood.
The partnership has been so successful that it has been expanded to include other classes; next semester, four Fairfield courses will have a component at Cesar Batalla.
One of the things that makes it so meaningful is the “check in” at the end of each semester. “The professors, student leaders, and Cesar Batalla teachers, principal and literacy coach all sit down and debrief, identifying what went right, what we can improve upon, and new goals for the coming semester,” said Quan.
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