ASU partners to mentor, assist foster kids
For five early childhood education students at Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership, it is a chance to make a difference and earn course credits. For 15 children in foster care, it is the chance of a lifetime, an opportunity to take a meaningful step forward, both academically and socially.
A partnership formed by the college with Aid to the Adoption of Special Kids (AASK) and Sunshine Residential and Group Homes is bringing a tutoring program and a place to learn to children in foster care. The relationship is part of the college’s field experiences curriculum for undergraduate students in its Early Childhood Teaching and Leadership program.
During the fall of 2007, five students under the guidance of Assistant Professor Nancy Perry tutored 15 primary school-age children two times weekly. Interagency agreements with AASK and Sunshine were facilitated by Maureen Gerard, coordinator of the Professional Field Experience program at ASU’s West campus. Gerard also secured tutoring space in the teacher ed college’s Curriculum Resource Library and assisted with the supervision of the students when Perry was unavailable.
“There are almost 10,000 foster children living in Arizona, most of whom lag behind academically and socially,” says Perry, who redesigned her teacher research course to allow her students to conduct research and program evaluation on the tutoring process. “Our project supports only a small fraction of these children, but we are committed to helping AASK secure more tutors for these children in foster care homes across the valley because the program benefits both the children and the pre-service teachers involved in the program.”
Sascha Mitchell-Kay, an assistant professor of Elementary Education, has brought the project into the classroom on the West campus, implementing the home design learning assignment in her Classroom Management/Environmental Design course. She has also mentored her 14 students as they have solicited donations and conducted shopping excursions at Goodwill, used furniture stores, Teachers Treasures, and other outlets featuring inexpensive goods that can be used to create a healthy and stimulating teaching and learning environment. The early childhood ed students participating in Perry’s research and program evaluation coursework have engaged in fund-raising for materials, built work tables and bookshelves, and worked together to organize the home learning settings that have been unavailable or out of reach for most of the foster children. Sunshine has provided students with transportation to ASU to attend tutoring. The company’s home managers have worked with the college students on designing the home learning environments.
“Having these ASU students step up as tutors has allowed us to leverage the resources we have to help even more children in foster care,” says Hydee Landes, coordinator of AASK’s Special Friends Program, which is designed to match foster children with committed adults who can serve as role models, advocates, mentors and friends. “If the example set by ASU and the College of Teacher Education and Leadership motivates others to get involved, then we are well on our way to our goal of helping hundreds of children still waiting for a tutor or mentor match.”
Perry says the benefit to ASU students is an important step in their career path.
“The program benefits our students by offering them first-hand opportunities to learn about language and literacy development and to be of service to disadvantaged youth residing in the local community.
“It provides students with ‘real-world’ leadership skills, opportunities for community collaboration, experience in advocating for quality educational programming for disadvantaged youth, and opportunities for undergraduate research – all of which are goals of our Early Childhood Teaching and Leadership program.”
While the children at the receiving end of the partnership are rewarded daily with a structured, quality learning experience, they will also receive an up-close-and-personal look at where their journey might one day end. Approximately 50 foster children will receive a tour of the West campus later this month, as well as festivities celebrating their academic accomplishments.
“Our goal is to help one child at a time in whatever way possible,” says AASK CEO Ron Adelson. “Collaborations such as this one with the college are invaluable to help kids in the foster care system succeed.
AASK is currently conducting a campaign to find 100 new mentors during the first 100 days of the new year. Interested volunteers can contact 602-930-4900 or go online at specialfriendsaz.org.