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December 9, 2010

Local non-profits provide ULM teacher candidates mentorship opportunities

Four northeast Louisiana not-for-profit groups officially partnered with the University of Louisiana at Monroe, agreeing to provide additional leadership and service learning opportunities for ULM's teacher candidates.

The university, on behalf of the College of Education and Human Development, formally signed the Memorandum of Understanding agreement with The Wellspring Alliance for Families, Northeast Louisiana United Way, YMCA of Northeast Louisiana, and the Children's Coalition of Northeast Louisiana on Tuesday, Dec. 7. The collaborative program gives the boards of these respective organizations an avenue to mentor ULM teacher education candidates each semester.

The Professional and Community Service Learning project is the culmination of a months-long effort that pairs the teacher candidates with the non-profits and comes on the heels of a pilot project tested during the 2010 fall semester, according to Assistant Dean of Education Dr. Thilla Sivakumaran. A total of 14 students were placed with the boards of the various agencies this fall with the goal of not only producing excellent teachers, but also great leaders, Sivakumaran said.

Starting with the 2011 spring semester, the four organizations will select 14 new teacher education candidates for mentoring. In return, the candidates must research the mission, policies, and guidelines of the board for which they are chosen, prepare a written proposal to address a defined issue on that board's agenda, and attend a minimum of three board meetings during the semester.

In addition, the students will discuss with other teacher candidates the learned experiences of attending board meetings and deliver a presentation of project proposal to the Professional Block candidates and the board's response to the proposal.

Wellspring's Chief Executive Officer Judy Bell said her organization was pleased to participate in the project because it furthered the organization's mission of strengthening and valuing the family.

"We have already met the young people with whom we will be working and they are quite impressive," she said. "We believe that this expanded learning opportunity for our young teachers will contribute greatly to their leadership development and to an increased awareness of the issues that our children face each day and community services available to help."

ULM teacher candidate Rachel Deas, 21, a senior elementary education major, was one of the first 14 candidates selected for the pilot project this fall. She helped raise $166 that will purchase kitchen cooking utensils for the Grand Opening celebration of the new Keller House, which will provide transitional housing for the homeless.

"At first this project felt like just one more requirement we would have to meet," Deas admitted. "But it turned out to be such a good thing, It really opened my eyes to the needs of our community and made me feel much more connected to it. I'm really grateful to have been part of this experience."

The curriculum and instruction students, in both elementary education and secondary education, have a Learning Service Project component in their block classes that the partnerships help meet.

The agreement parallels last year's agreement between ULM teacher candidates and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Louisiana and is part of the reason that ULM's College of Education and Human Development continues to earn accolades for its teacher preparation programs.

It was recently recognized on a nationwide broadcast of American Public Media's Marketplace program and in 2008 received recognition in a New York Times editorial.

"ULM is producing excellent teachers who are among the best in the state and the nation in terms of preparation," said College of Education and Human Development Dean Sandra Lemoine. "This program provides our students just one more opportunity to significantly impact northeast Louisiana's children in a positive way."

ULM President Nick Bruno and other key ULM administration and faculty were present for the event. Other agency representatives included Linda Gavioli of the Children's Coalition, Janet Durden of the United Way and Chris Pearler of the YMCA, who joined Bell for the agreement signing.

"As president, I support and encourage collaborative initiatives such as this that will advance the mission and goals of our institution, while expanding these organization's ability to help the people of northeast Louisiana," said Bruno.

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