SRU partners with preschool in India for virtual workshops and student teaching
Jacqueline Routhier, a Slippery Rock University senior early childhood/special education major, leads an art activity with students from the Kara4Kids preschool in India. SRU has partnered with Kara4Kids for a reciprocal professional development program.
Feb. 12, 2021
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Kara4Kids and Slippery Rock University share more than just the same goal to create lifelong learners, as indicated in both schools' vision statements. SRU has partnered with the Kara4Kids, a system of preschools in India, to provide workshops led by SRU faculty for Kara4Kids teachers, staff and parents, while Kara4Kids is facilitating virtual student-teaching placements for SRU students.
"This is a blending of two cultures at a time when most of us can't go anywhere because of the pandemic and students and teachers are at home," said Sara Tours, associate professor of elementary education and early childhood. "We're still able to share our cultures via Zoom and share teachable moments. This partnership is such a wonderful and truly beautiful mix for everyone, especially seeing children laughing, dancing and reading stories together."
The story of our how SRU and Kara4Kids first connected began when Tours traveled to Bangalore in January 2020 to consult with Kara4Kids and lead workshops for its teachers, as part of the Pennsylvania Global Education and Business Hub program. Known as Penn Hub, it promotes Pennsylvania universities as a destination in the U.S. for student exchange, technology transfer and faculty development.
"This partnership has been an enriching journey with the Penn Hub faculty," said Geraldine D'Mello, the Kara4Kids' curriculum specialist. "The faculty's insights and the varied perspectives have definitely helped us work differently, by way of the different techniques and their approach."
SRU students have benefited as well.
Typically, SRU elementary education/early childhood majors who have an international education concentration fulfill their student-teaching requirement either in Spain in the spring semester or Ireland in the fall semester. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, international travel has not been possible. The requirement was modified and Tours helped find an alternative through her connections in India.
Five SRU students were placed with a cooperating teacher at Kara4Kids last fall for a three-week student-teaching experience, and two more students will student teach Kara4Kids classes virtually for the spring 2021 semester. For two of the three weeks, the SRU students observe with their cameras off. When it is their week to student-teach they have their cameras on and interact with the children for the first two days, before leading one-hour activities on each of the final three days.
"Because the class is on Zoom for the children as well, there had to be a lot of different activities planned in advance," Tour said. "Whether it's a book or a dance, there were a lot of different activities to keeping the children very busy, and then if it's an art activity we had to tell them a week earlier what they need to have at home."
"You got to see what it's like to be in an Indian household, which was really cool," said Jacqueline Routhier, a senior early childhood/special education major from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. "We saw how the parents or guardians participated in the activities, making sure they were staying on track, which is something that you won't see in the U.S. as much."
Because of the time difference, the SRU students were teaching by 6 a.m. and they learned to adjust on the fly, such as when the internet connection for one of the teachers was disrupted and another one had to pick up where the other left off.
"It's a huge learning experience," Routhier said. "For me, the biggest takeaway was learning how to co-teach because the model of co-teaching is something that we learn a lot about in our classes but oftentimes we don't actually get to practice it. Because we collaborated so closely on the lesson plans, one of us could easily have done the whole thing."
In addition to Kara4Kids benefiting from having SRU students share aspects of American culture with the students, SRU hosted three workshops for Kara4Kids teachers, staff and parents, addressing topics such as metacognition, questioning techniques and the importance of play.
"All of this adds a new dimension to our vision," D'Mello said. "We are looking forward to continuing this partnership while developing an awareness of the different dynamics and factors, such as the culture and the time difference."
"It was exciting to provide a workshop for their teachers on topics for which we are passionate," said Linda Zane, professor of elementary education and early childhood, who presented on pedagogy and teaching spaces. "We received many favorable comments from the Kara4Kids teachers who attended, saying that training was very informative and delivered effectively, and that they will be able to implement the concepts."
Other workshop leaders from SRU included Tours; Monique Alexander, assistant professor of elementary education and early childhood; Jeremy Lynch, associate professor of special education; and Amy Orville, a graduate student majoring in education leadership and administration from Salem, Ohio, who is a graduate assistant in the SRU College of Education.
Zane said she is in discussions with a local community partner, Early Learning Connections in Butler, to form a collaborative workshop for their teachers along with Kara4Kids teachers on teaching virtually with preschool children.
"Community partners can be right around the corner, and they can also be across the world," Zane said. "Despite the geographical distance, we hope to forge a collaborative partnership between early childhood educators on both continents."
Also, as part of the reciprocal service-learning partnership, Kara4Kids staff and teachers are working with SRU students with international concentrations outside of their student teaching for a program Tours coined "At Home Abroad." D'Mello spoke to SRU students via Zoom about the educational system in India, her career background and then conducted a Q&A session.
The monthly At Home Abroad sessions, featuring speakers from other countries who talk to SRU students about international education systems, was started by Tours last year because students have been unable to travel abroad, which was a requirement in international concentration. There are 48 students in the concentration this year.
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