Program Pairs Graduate Students with Middle Schoolers

Author: Malcolm McDowell Woods

Published Date: 10/2/2019

Categories: Alumni F1RST Magazine Faculty and Staff Graduate Programs in Education

Space to Learn

When a Program Pairs Carroll Teaching Students with Middle Schoolers, the Learning is Exponential

One day after learning about deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from biology professor Dr. Christine Schneider, 18 students from Milwaukee’s Acosta Middle School found themselves in the wilds of Waukesha County, hacking at branches and helping to clear an invasive shrub, buckthorn, from a wooded area.

The students were participating in a unique program that brought middle schoolers from Milwaukee’s near southside together with graduate students in Carroll University’s Master of Arts in Teaching(MAT) program for a week of learning and discovery. The program, called the Acosta Environmental Education Adventure and funded by a grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, is a win-win: the Acosta students get some hands-on environmental education, and Carroll’s education students receive an opportunity to practice the teaching skills they have been learning.

In late June of this summer, Ana Diaz ’13, a Carroll alumna and science teacher at Acosta, led a group of 18 Acosta seventh- and eighth-graders to Carroll. The students spent time on Carroll’s main campus, visiting labs in the Michael and Mary Jaharis Science Laboratories building, and toured the Waukesha wastewater treatment plant, among other sites, but the highlight of the week was the time out at Carroll’s Prairie Springs Environmental Education Center.

“This is such a different environment for them all,” said Diaz. “They’ve been really excited to come out here every day.”

At Prairie Springs, the Acosta students experience a habitat quite removed from the near southside Milwaukee neighborhood surrounding their school—75 acres of woods, wetlands, springs and grassland.

“The kids are really loving it, being out here with the bugs and dirt and all,” said Emilie Thomas, a Carroll education student. “Their favorite thing to do so far is catch frogs!” 

Time spent outdoors experiencing nature is just one of the benefits of this program, however. Many of the middle schoolers are from families with little to no prior college exposure; this week spent at Carroll provides a warm and sunny introduction to college life.

“It’s so cool for them to experience this,” said Diaz. At Carroll, the campers visited with some first-generation college students. “Meeting college students like themselves was great—they can imagine themselves going to college,” she said. “It’s really great to see them become excited about this sort of future for themselves.”

Haley, one of the Acosta students, said the visit to the labs and classrooms at Carroll were inspirational. “I asked if I could take notes, because I really want to go to college,” she reported. She aspires to become a nurse

On their days at Prairie Springs, the students shifted between a number of learning modules created by Carroll  faculty member, Kim Hofkamp and her MAT students in the Science/Social Studies methods course. For many of the MAT students, the first cohort in the new program, these modules were their first experiences leading a group of children. They planned a mix of activities that kept the students engaged and busy, with lessons ranging from habitat variety to environmental issues such as pollution and invasive species.

In leading the sessions, the Carroll MAT students are themselves learning. “I love this!” said Courtney Wade. “It’s a learning process for all of us. I haven’t really had many opportunities until now to actually lead a lesson.” For Wade, who majored in social work as an undergrad, the MAT program offers a quick way to move into the classroom. “I had always thought about teaching,” she said. “And about a week into the MAT program, I knew this was what I wanted to do.” The speed and convenience of the Carroll program, which lasts just 17 months and includes the cost of books and other reference materials in the base tuition, appealed to her.

Wade’s classmate, Emilie Thomas, said she selected Carroll’s program because of the university’s reputation and its close relationship with area school districts, which means more opportunities for student teaching and potential jobs. Her undergrad major was in theatre arts from a school out east. In addition to working on teaching skills this week with a diverse student body, she is also using the opportunity to brush up on her Spanish

“I’m learning alongside the Acosta students!”

And the most important thing she’s learned, she said, is that the classroom is where she wants to be.
“I’ve just been falling more and more in love with teaching through this program,” she reflected.” I know now: theater may be my passion, but teaching is my purpose.” 

Learn more about the Master of Arts in Teaching program


Stay Informed With F1RST Magazine

Panoramic View of campus