Senior Michelle Smith has learned a lot from college: things like talking slow, being patient and not using too many big words. As president of MSU’s chapter of the Student Michigan Education Association (SMEA), these are skills the elementary education and integrative sciences major has needed when interacting with kids who are 10 or 12 years younger than the college students she surrounds herself with on a daily basis. “Now I get more nervous about teaching college-age kids in our micro-labs during class than elementary kids,” Smith said.
There are several student organizations on campus that make it a point to volunteer with elementary aged kids in East Lansing. They hold free tutoring in the library and paint maps of the United States on playgrounds. SMEA, Geography Club and the Honors Times Two mentoring program have all participated in community service projects with local schools. While being an education major is not necessary, many of the students involved are trying to sharpen their teaching skills for job opportunities in the future.
SMEA sponsors many local projects, including volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house, holding free tutoring in the Homework Helproom at the Lansing Library on Monday nights and putting together “Make A Child Smile”-card-making nights, where they write personal messages to kids battling cancer across the country.[chalk]
Smith’s favorite project is called Outreach to Teach, which SMEA does every April. The group selects an elementary school in need of renovation in the Lansing area and steps in to give it a whole new look. They raise money to donate books and school supplies, do some landscaping and give the kids bean bags and other items that make school a little more exciting. “It’s a surprise, but we always redo the faculty lounge,” Smith said. “Seeing the principal’s face is so rewarding. It’s amazing what we can accomplish in one day.” They have already chosen the school they will be helping this spring. [cottrill2]
While SMEA volunteers with any students that come into their Homework Helproom, the Honors Times Two mentoring program that is run through the MSU Honors College specifically includes kids who have received teacher or parent recommendations. Its goal is to match up Honors College members with gifted elementary school students in the area to help stimulate their education and give them more of a challenge than they may be getting in the classroom. Psychology, anthropology and health studies senior Sara Cottrill is the coordinator of the program this year. “Us mentors are all gifted ourselves and remember what it’s like to feel ‘different’ and always ahead of your classmates,” Cottrill said. “I love satisfying a need these students have to be challenged and talk to someone who understands their experiences.”
Cottrill is not an education major, but she has been involved with Honors Times Two for the past three years. Teachers in the Lansing area recognize their students as being accelerated before they are placed in the mentoring program. “I love working with children and I really saw a need for this program since none of the school districts [in the area] have very comprehensive gifted education programs,” Cottrill said.
Honors Times Two was put into place after parents of elementary-age students began calling the Office of Gifted and Talented Education at MSU, asking it to provide services for their students. The office already had programs in place for middle and high school students and found it difficult not to respond with the wealth of academically talented students they had in the Honors College. “It was a perfect match,” Kathee McDonald, director of the Office of Gifted and Talented Education, said. “We had students who were gifted when they were in elementary school and understood the frustrations all these kids were going through. Their classes would be learning about a topic and they wanted to go more in depth.”
The program has been in place since 2004 and gets about 65 requests from parents a year, though not all can be met. Every April, the office invites the students along with their parents and mentors to share the projects they have been working on throughout the year. Each student explains their project and the impact their mentors have had on them. “I recorded it last year because it was so touching,” McDonald said. “Its amazing how these little kids could make college students tear up.”[mcdonald]
Though not primarily education-focused, MSU’s Geography Club also does projects for elementary students a few times a year. Elementary education senior Shannon Moore is co-president of the club. The group does community service work and spreads the word about the importance of geography, as well as networking with employers for its members. “There’s a career fair in the spring and geography teachers are usually there, so you can make connections,” Moore said.
In the fall, Geography Club painted maps of the United States and Michigan surrounded by the Great Lakes at Cavanaugh Elementary, something they had done at other schools in previous years. The group also goes into classrooms on Earth Day to do projects like planting trees with the kids.
[homework]Moore believes that teaching geography to kids is important and gives the group a chance to get involved in the community. She says that programs like Google Earth are easy ways to show kids that geography is more than just memorizing the names of countries and continents on a map. If they type in their address, they can usually figure out how to navigate to be able to see their house. “It’s good, too, if they wonder what cities look like in France or anything like that,” Moore said. “It’s a great learning opportunity for kids and hands-on.” The club does not mentor or tutor to the extent SMEA and Honors Times Two do, but it does try to instill kids with a basic appreciation for geography, even if that is just playing games with maps on the playground.
Most of these organizations allow more than just elementary education majors to participate. Geography Club sends out e-mails at the beginning of the year to anyone who is a geography major or minor, Honors Times Two is open to anyone in the Honors College and SMEA allows anyone going into education to join, even if they are actually music or secondary education majors.
Most people involved in the three organizations have come back with positive experiences and for some, it has just reinforced why they wanted to go into the teaching field in the first place. “I just love seeing the light bulb go off in their head when they understand,” Smith said.

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