The theme was camping, inspired by the children's book Maisy Goes Camping by Lucy Cousins. The goal: letter recognition. The activity: spell your first name using the letters on the slips of green construction paper, building a tree for your campsite.
Jillian Dubuque had read the book aloud and conducted this lesson before — for her classmates, Early Childhood Education majors at Holyoke Community College. Today, though, for the first time, she'd be testing it out on a more appropriate audience — 3- and 4-year-olds in the preschool program at the Springfield Boys and Girls Club Family Center.
"Its easy for us to put a name together," said Dubuque, who lives in Chicopee. "It's a little harder for them."
Dubuque and her classmates are all enrolled this semester in Education 210: Curriculum in Early Education. They spent one recent morning at the center, on Acorn Street in Springfield's Bay section, for Literacy Enrichment Day, a Service Learning project they created specifically for these preschoolers and their teachers.
HCC's robust Service Learning Program matches classes with community groups, generally nonprofits. Students conduct projects that enrich their studies and also benefit their community partners. Each semester, dozens of HCC classes engage with community groups in a wide variety of Service Learning projects.
For Literacy Enrichment Day, the education students from HCC set up colorful, eye-popping displays and crafted fun, engaging activities, each based on a different theme and book. Lyudmila Maksyuk, of Chicopee, for instance, picked apples for her theme and Love the Very Hungry Caterpillar for her book. Cindy Soriano, of Northampton, picked bears and Blueberries for Sal. The lessons they crafted were meant to help the preschoolers learn to read.
"They're studying to work with very young children," said their teacher, Sheila Gould, coordinator of HCC's Early Childhood Education program. "Some of them want to be preschool teachers. Some of them may move toward early intervention. Usually they practice their lesson plans on each other, pretending they're preschoolers. It's not the same as working with real children, so this opportunity helps them get practical experience."
Partnering with Gould's class from HCC was also a great opportunity for the Springfield Boys and Girls Club, said preschool director Joey Gebo.
"Just being able to engage my students with other teachers is amazing," she said. "They see me every day. To have another voice in the classroom draws them out of their boxes, so to speak, and gives them a different perspective about what different teachers can offer, how different teachers teach and gives them a little more group socialization, which I don't usually get to do too much of during the day."
She also doesn't have much time for lesson planning, she said. "We get in as much as we can," said Gebo, "but we're pretty much hands-on full nonstop, so we don't have much time for it."
As part of this Service Learning project, though, the HCC class produced a 28-page packet full of lesson plans they left behind for Gebo, Brenda Hogan, the other lead teacher, and their two assistant teachers. Each student developed a complete cross-curricular thematic unit based on their book with lessons and activities that emphasize math, science, social students and visual arts, in addition to English language arts.
"So it's all planned out for them," said Gould, "even citing the Massachusetts guidelines for preschool learning experiences and what supplies they need. Each teacher will get one of these packets."
Gould, who has led classes in Service Learning projects in prior semesters, said the experience of working in real-world settings can be transformative for students, and she witnessed that with this one.
"I could see first-hand their ability to engage with children through conversation, using an enthusiastic tone of voice and just being more animated with their body language than they typically display in the lab setting on campus," Gould said. "It was like they let go of any inhibitions they may have when giving a lesson presentation in a college class. Their work came to life."
STORY and PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) HCC student Ashley Molidor, from Chicopee, works with preschooler at the Springfield Boys and Girls Club Family Center. (Right) HCC student Cindy Soriano, from Northampton, reads the book Blueberries for Sal during a Literacy Enrichment Day at the Springfield Boys and Girls Club. (Thumbnail) HCC student Jade Fleury, of Springfield, works on an activity about food.