A group of future teachers at Iowa State University became mentors to at-risk first-graders in Omaha this fall.
They got to know one another as pen pals, trading letters and photos. They encouraged the first-graders to do well in school. They talked about college and got the children excited about education — and about Iowa State.
Then on Friday, they met face-to-face. Ten Iowa State University School of Education students majoring in elementary education made the trek from Ames to Omaha to teach and share books with the first-graders. The two groups of students made an equally big impression on one another.
“I have never experienced teaching children like I did on Friday and I am truly a changed future teacher because of it,” said Anna Douglas, a junior in elementary education. “These children see the light in everything and are so motivated to become college students in their future.”
It’s all part of a program called “No Excuses University,” a national network of elementary, middle, and high schools that partner with colleges to improve outcomes for students, and put them on a path toward higher education.
Partnering for success
This is the third year that Iowa State has partnered with Field Club Elementary School in Omaha, where about 85 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, 51 percent are English language learners, and 82 percent are racial minorities.
First-grade teacher Lori Cupit-Stott is a 1995 Iowa State graduate in elementary education and enjoys partnering with her alma mater. She said her class continues to make college and career a part of their everyday lessons and conversation. The kids also love doing their Iowa State cheers (watch video).
“This will definitely be a day they will always remember,” Cupit-Stott said after Friday’s visit by the Iowa State students. “Five minutes after they left, a student said, ‘I miss them already.’ They love getting the letters, too. And now can put today’s memories with those faces as they receive letters and pictures.”
The Iowa State students involved are both freshmen and peer mentors with the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers Learning Community, a School of Education group aimed to help freshmen majoring in elementary education succeed in their first year of college.
“It’s very important that you listen to your teacher and do all of your homework every day,” Grace Bryan, a freshman in elementary education, wrote to first-grader Javier.
“I hope you are enjoying school!” freshman Megan Ellerbeck wrote to first-grader Genesis. “I also hope that you are getting your schoolwork done and on time. That is very important to do! Homework is a very important part of school. I also hope that you are having fun in school but also outside of school!”
Hands-on learning with children
The partnership is one way that future teachers at Iowa State receive hands-on experience with children long before they become classroom teachers.
Kendria Peterson, a junior in elementary education, said every opportunity to work with children offers her a new perspective of how she can impact a child's life.
“It is amazing that we are getting our freshmen involved with students right away and allowing them to begin to build their teaching persona,” Peterson said. “I want them to have as many opportunities to work with children as possible, because waiting until junior year is too long.”
Rebecca Schrodt, senior in elementary education, said she’s learned through this partnership to not take college for granted.
“Oftentimes, it was an expectation for me to attend college whereas that is not the case for these students,” Schrodt said. “I learned to not take college for granted. As a future teacher, I want to always encourage my students to set high goals such as college.”
Douglas said she feels so fortunate to have met every single one of the first-graders at Fields Club Elementary.
“They have made more of an impact on me then they will ever know,” she said. “As a future teacher, it was so amazing to see how important learning is to these students and how motivated they are to continue their education after high school.”
First face-to-face visit
Iowa State’s involvement with the first-grade class in Omaha has grown since the partnership began in 2013. Friday was the first trip that the Iowa State students took to see the younger students face-to-face.
Those making the trip included Douglas, Peterson, Schrodt, Emily Meyer, Amy Raymond, Bailey Oberbroeckling, Leah Miller, Hailey Walker, Janelle Madsen, and Tessa Subra, along with Chuck Achter, a senior lecturer and assistant to the director in the School of Education.
During the visit, Iowa State students read books to the first-graders such as “How I Became a Pirate,” “Dinos in the Snow!,” “The Rainbow Fish,” “What If Everybody Did That,” and “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.”
The reading was followed by educational activities such as making snowflakes, writing about “if I could be anything for a day,” playing a game similar to Go Fish, coloring, painting, and working with magnet boards.
“I had them complete an activity about what they want to be when they grow up and they exceeded my expectations,” Douglas said. “Doctors, vets, teachers, and ninjas were among some of the dream jobs that these children had. It warmed my heart so much to see the children's vision of becoming a college student.”
Iowa State students also gave a book to each first-grader. Money for the books was donated by the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers Learning Community, which also inspired families to read at home this semester through an outreach project called Bookland at the Ames Public LIbrary in collaboration with Raising Readers in Story County.
The partnership between Iowa State and Field Club Elementary extends beyond education students. Jenny Cox, a former Field Club Elementary student, now attends Iowa State. She’s a junior in public relations. She also recently visited the first-grade classroom and talked to them about her experiences at Iowa State and the life of a college student.