Maria Hall, a junior at the University of Rochester, has been having so much fun in one of her courses that she feels guilty about getting academic credit for it. Nevertheless, Hall will be earning four hours of academic credit for helping School 12's Intercultural Studies Specialist, Mary Jones, infuse the elementary school's curriculum with a multicultural flavor.
Hall, who grew up in Guatemala, has put a lot of time and effort into designing lessons for fourth and fifth graders that show how people in other countries meet basic needs for work, food, shelter, but it has been a labor of love. "I love talking about my country," she says. "The students have been so responsive, it's really been fun."
Hall has developed a slide presentation for her pupils, has cooked them Guatemalan dishes, shown them Guatemalan weavings, and has led discussions that compare and contrast how people's daily activities differ in the two countries.
"One day we talked about going to school," Hall recalls. "I explained that in Guatemala, kids don't have to go to school. At first, some of the kids said, 'hey, that's one country I'd like to live in,' but then we talked about what kinds of jobs they might get if they didn't go to school, like shining shoes. And how they couldn't stay home and watch TV all the time, because they couldn't afford a TV. They saw things differently after that discussion."
Hall is one of a handful of Rochester undergraduates working in a pilot program which began last fall at School 12 that links Rochester undergraduates as "research interns" with teachers in the Rochester City School District. By next fall, the program is expected to operate in several other schools, and to involve many more Rochester students.
"College students are learned persons," said William Green, dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science, who developed the program with City Schools administrators. "They have developed a real knowledge base by the time they are finishing up their major. These internships show them one way they can use their knowledge to directly benefit society."
The intern's assignments are closely related to their college major. The two Spanish majors who have served as interns -- Senior Migdali Ramos and Hall, a junior -- have drawn upon their knowledge of Spanish and Hispanic cultures to enrich multicultural classroom presentations at School 12. Jennifer Falk, a senior, drew upon what she had learned as a religion and classics major to introduce students to the different ways that people worship and celebrate religious holidays, and to develop a slide show about archaeology.
"With fourth to sixth graders, I talked about Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism," said Falk. Around the winter holidays, Falk did presentations for the first to third graders on Hanukkah, reading them a story book, teaching a Hanukkah song, showing them how to perform the rituals, and explaining what the rituals signified.
Falk learned how to pull things out of the kids in the classroom, especially after watching teacher Mary Jones work with each age group. She also learned to keep things simple: "We talked about the basics, like what is the book that Christians use? That Muslims use? Where do people go to pray?"
As the program spreads to more schools and subject areas, undergraduates will work directly with teachers in one of three ways, under plans developed jointly by the College of Arts and Science and by Superintendent Manuel Rivera's office:
> AS RESOURCE PERSONS: They will help teachers improvelessons by locating experts, books, articles, films, or other resources that could enrich the classroom experience, and by helping teachers think through and implement performance-based projects. [A performance-based project is something students create to demonstrate their mastery of a subject. Examples are oral, artistic, or written presentations.]
> AS MENTORS: They will assist students in developing their portfolios and be part of the audience for student work. Also research interns will work with students of particular promise, or students who are experiencing more than average difficulty.
> AS ROLE MODELS FOR PUPILS: Research interns will show pupils what strategies they themselves use to think and learn. For example, interns will share tips on how to read to get the meaning of a text, how to revise writing or how to think through a problem. They may work with a class or a small group, showing them how to use libraries, computer data bases, and other information sources. They may also show students how they themselves plan a paper and write it, or develop a project and complete it.
School 12's Mary Jones finds that this year's interns have saved her time she would have had to spend gathering materials and researching topics for presentations. But the real plus of having interns in the classroom, Jones says, is what they bring to School 12's students: "It's always good to have another person presenting material besides myself."
City Schools Superintendent Manuel Rivera echoes that view: "Rochester undergraduates share their enthusiasm for their subject matter at a time when the need for adult energy in classrooms is great."
The program should also improve teaching and learning, according to Jean Slattery, supervising director of curriculum development and support, because it provides "occasions for teachers and college students to reflect together in a sustained dialogue."
The program is administered by Green and Slattery.
School teachers who wish to have an intern assigned to them will request one through their principal. Appropriate interns from interested undergraduates in Arts and Science will then be selected.