Through volunteering, freshman education students gain teaching experience

By Pari Apostolakos, Staff writer

Students in Education at the University are learning about serving the community early on in their respective undergraduate journeys.

Students enrolled in Identity and Difference in Education (EDUC 201) are placed somewhere in the community to volunteer as part of their final grade. Many of them end up volunteering in schools.

Anna Sellas, freshman in Education, volunteered at University Primary School once a week last semester as part of the EDUC 201 course.

Sellas said University Primary School was different than any school she has worked in or attended. 

The unusual class structure was something Sellas had never been exposed to.

“The classes were grouped in K-1, K-2 (and) K-3, and K-4 (and) K-5, so there was a large age range. There were multiple teachers and volunteers in the room at the same time (and) the students had a large amount of freedom,” Sellas wrote in an email.

What surprised her the most was how the students were treated by their teachers and volunteers.

“The class didn’t seem to have much of a structure. Volunteers were discouraged from using the word ‘no’ in order to foster conscious choices — it was just a very interesting experience,” Sellas said.

In many ways, this volunteer experience pushed Sellas out of her comfort zone and posed a challenge she had never needed to overcome before.

Sellas said handling students usually comes quite naturally to her.

“I have worked in many different settings with all types of learners and thus have learned many effective disciplinary skills for students; however, at the University Primary School they had a different approach to discipline than I was used to,” Sellas said. “It was difficult to adjust to their style of facilitation when I was used to a much more traditional classroom dynamic.”

To attend the University Primary School, students must be a child of a University professor or student. Sellas said she felt a strong tie to the C-U community while volunteering because of this distinguishing factor.

Jack Bulthuis, freshman in Education, worked at a school as well but had a different experience than Sellas.

Bulthuis volunteered with SOAR, or Student Opportunities for After-School Resources. He also worked with bilingual students who speak Spanish and English.  

“I took Spanish in high school so that was kind of interesting to me, to see how they were already speaking both languages,” Bulthuis said.

Bulthuis said he usually did not have to call upon his Spanish speaking skills when he was working with a student above the third grade.

David McCormack, freshman in education, also volunteers with bilingual students at the International Prep Academy in Champaign, like Bulthuis. He is as an after-school mentor, so he is paired with a student who he helps with homework and reading; he even plays games with the students when homework is completed.

“I’ve always been really comfortable around children,” McCormack said. “I have a lot of siblings and a lot of cousins, so I feel like I connect with children pretty easily — I felt like I could be effective at that school.”

Although McCormack is not fluent in Spanish, he felt whatever skills he has with the language could be beneficial to the students at the International Prep Academy.

McCormack believed the most challenging part of working with a student as a mentor is building trust. Once that trust is established and a relationship is built, it is easier to ask the student to perform tasks and have them understand what is being asked and why.

He said one thing to remember is that the mentor does not come first in that particular situation. It is vital to focus on the child’s needs.  

McCormack said it is important to remember not to become frustrated with the children either. He said as long as you are genuine and true to yourself, you will build an honest relationship with a child and have a positive impact on them at this very important time in their lives.

Bulthuis chose to work with young children because he felt it would not only be beneficial, but also the most fun for him as a pre-elementary education major.

“You learn about yourself and … (which) teaching techniques work for you, and (which techniques) don’t,” Bulthuis said.

Bulthuis feels volunteering with the SOAR program was a good fit for him because he was able to get experience in a classroom as a freshman.

“It’s nice to go into your major full on and have 20 volunteer hours that are just … with the community,” Bulthuis said.

The most important thing Bulthuis learned from his volunteer experience was having patience.

“There would be some days where I was working with two boys that were best friends and they would always … start picking on each other, start touching each other … it just took some time,” Bulthuis said.

However, Bulthuis recommended volunteering with children to anybody who is interested in doing it.

“Definitely do it; it’s worth it. Little kids aren’t as much work as you really think — it’s more of just having fun with them and keeping them on task,” Bulthuis said.

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