CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., March 2, 2016 –Southeast Missouri State University’s education learning communities, now in their third year in LaFerla Hall, are bringing together like-minded students – future teachers — to live and learn in the same space, propelling them on the path to extraordinary teaching careers.
The Secondary Scholars and Tomorrow’s Teachers learning communities are housed on the third floor of LaFerla, one of Southeast’s newest residence halls on the north campus. The learning communities started as one unit but were divided this year into two based on educational interests. Secondary Scholars is for freshman middle and secondary education majors, while Tomorrow’s Teachers is for freshman early childhood, elementary and exceptional education majors. Both are open to just 25 students each.
Students living in the learning communities take multiple classes together including an introductory University Studies course, UI100, as well as ED280: Introduction to Education. Both are taught in a classroom just inside the LaFerla foyer, providing great access to students participating in the communities. Robin Smith, instructor in the Department of Middle and Secondary Education and coordinator for Secondary Scholars, and Dr. Sharon Dees, instructor in the Department of Elementary, Early and Special education and coordinator for Tomorrow’s Teachers, both teach their learning community’s class in LaFerla.
“My students in Secondary Scholars have developed a bond,” Smith said. “I have noticed they are honest with each other and encourage each other to do well.”
The classroom offers a small, intimate setting for students to get to know each other and feel comfortable. It is convenient because they meet on the main floor of the residence hall where they live, and it is equipped with all the necessary technology.
Freshman Nicole Bommer of O’Fallon, Missouri, participates in the Secondary Scholars learning community and says she appreciates everything it offers.
“I really like it because we can ask each other for help,” Bommer said. “You can discuss in groups because you don’t have to worry as much about being judged.”
“These students bond and work collaboratively,” Dees said. “It may be because they have two core classes together every semester their freshmen year or because they live on the same floor or both. I am currently working with Dr. Kendra Skinner (director of Residence Life) and Dr. Paul Watkins (professor of educational leadership and counseling) to get data to test my thinking.”
Both professors and students agree that the learning community encourages attendance, participation and teamwork. Outside of classes, the learning communities plan various activities together including bowling, escape rooms, movie nights and working with Habitat for Humanity. Smith and Dees attend many of the outings and have been able to bond with the students as well.
“They have the opportunity to work closely with faculty outside our classroom, participate in community activities and volunteer within our area,” Smith said.
Smith and Dees both say they are happy with all the opportunities the learning community offers and say students really are developing friendships and a network for the future.
“I have witnessed my first group from three years ago and second group from last year still working collaboratively and hanging out together in Scully,” where Southeast’s College of Education is housed.
Both students and faculty say these learning communities are achieving the goal of students creating experiences together both personally and professionally. And they might just be bonding now with their future teaching colleagues.