WESTVILLE | Early childhood education students at Purdue North Central have been working with organizations throughout the region to enhance their own education, but also to provide services to the groups.
Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education Dr. Mary Jane Eisenhauer said the service learning projects are all about hands-on learning and helping others.
“Our bachelor’s degree program in early childhood education was started in 2008. This course, Child, Family, School, Community Partnerships, is required for new students and is a combination of in-class lectures and discussions, with work in the community. This isn’t student teaching. It’s our students going out there to fulfill needs to build capacity for our partners,” said Eisenhauer.
She said her students work for a variety of groups in a number of capacities and whether their work is administrative, learning the ins and outs of program support, or if they're working one-on-one with toddlers, the impact is huge.
“I give my students a pebble at the beginning of class and ask them to throw them in a pond and I show them how the ripples from their action will impact areas of the community in ways they can’t imagine as they go out and do their work,” she said.
“We work with 12 to 18 partners each year in Porter, LaPorte, and Lake Counties. Students work in childcare centers or with children and the students are freshmen or sophomores so this is many times the first experience they have working with children. It helps to really shape whether or not this is something they want to pursue,” said Eisenhauer.
Students are at work in Lake County at Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center and the Workforce Development Services Child Care Resource & Referral in Gary; in LaPorte County at Dunebrook, Imagination Station, the LaPorte YMCA, and Notre Dame School; and in Porter County at the Valparaiso YMCA, Valpo Parks Department, Portage Parks and Recreation, and the Hilltop Neighborhood House.
Jennifer Wright, executive director of the Hilltop Neighborhood House said, “These students who come in give our children more interaction, more contact, and as a result our children have an unprecedented amount of time with teachers.”
Eisenhauer adds, “The whole class is infused with this idea of service. For a field like early childhood education, that’s really what it’s all about. This gives students a sense that there is an entire system around the child, the school, the family, and the community resources.”