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Colleges team up to teach through community service

Colleges team up to teach through community service

Picking up garbage on the streets is not only a good deed but also can be an educational opportunity

Picking up garbage on the streets is not only a good deed but also can be an educational opportunity for students.

By picking up trash, Union Graduate College President Laura Schweitzer said, students can learn about the negative impact that trash has on the environment. Such a deed can also teach math and history, by maybe weighing the trash or studying the history of garbage collection in the United States.

“When did garbage collection start in the United States? What effect did it have on public health?”

These sorts of service learning opportunities are the goal of a partnership called “Project SLATE” (Service Learning and Teacher Education) among The College of Saint Rose, The Sage Colleges, Union Graduate College and Schenectady County Community College.

The four institutions, with the help of the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center, are looking to train teachers to use community service as a teaching tool. College officials formally announced the partnership at a news conference Thursday at the Thelma P. Lally School of Education at Saint Rose, which will serve as grant manager in its new Institute for Service Learning.

Saint Rose President R. Mark Sullivan said this partnership will have positive effects on the community.

“Future educators will develop an understanding and an appreciation of the communities where they will teach, as well as ways to increase parental involvement in their children’s education,” Sullivan said.

College officials estimated that more than 3,000 college students would participate in Project SLATE service learning projects during the next three years.

Capital Region Teacher Center Director Ellen Sullivan said service learning is a great opportunity for students to apply their knowledge to improve their community.

“It’s really students who are problem-solvers — not just consumers of knowledge but producers of knowledge,” she said.

She added that teaching community service also helps tear down walls between academia and actual jobs.

The colleges received funding from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service and are matching that funding for a total of $900,000. The grant is for one year with the potential for being renewed for a second and third year, according to Sullivan. The federal agency awarded a total of $9 million in grants to only 28 organizations.

The project will begin this semester with the colleges training instructors how to incorporate aspects of service learning into their curricula. Then, the professors will teach the students about service learning and head out into the field in the spring semester — or sooner if they are ready.

The colleges will partner with numerous organizations including Capital Region BOCES, early childhood centers, the Help Yourself Foundation, the Emery Clinic at Saint Rose, a Saint Rose program for children with autism spectrum disorders called Friday Knights and the College Experience Program for students with developmental disabilities.

Some colleges are already doing service learning. Schweitzer said Union Graduate College has worked on a project with the Schenectady City Mission to provide job and skills training.

SCCC President Quintin B. Bullock said he thinks the college’s early childhood education program is a natural fit for this project. “We commit to working closely with Project SLATE partners to expand and strengthen pre-service education experiences for SCCC students,” he said in a statement.

Officials of The Sage Colleges are urging students to get involved in the community. President Susan Scrimshaw has launched a challenge to get the colleges to perform 1,000 hours of community service this year.

Scrimshaw has experience in service learning during her previous job working in the inner city of Chicago as dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois. She has seen the impact it can have on students.

“It provides them not only learning but experience and preparation for life as engaged citizens,” she said.

Scrimshaw said this project is a perfect opportunity for collaboration among institutions of higher learning in the Capital Region.

“We share common interests and common goals. Our survival as small colleges and graduate schools really thrives on our ability to partner,” she said.

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