Campus News

A look into the hope of our future: kindergarten lab on Bethel’s campus

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Photo Credit: Bethel College Department of Education Remember when you were five and learning was an exciting experience? Remember when you still enjoyed going to school? Remember all the while anticipating lunch time? Although our anticipation of lunch time hasn’t changed, for many our desire to learn and go to class has significantly decreased. However, for several young individuals, the idea of learning on a college campus is literally the coolest thing that could happen to them. These new little ones that you may see around campus are a part of a very special addition to Bethel’s campus; one that could greatly assist you in your educational career. I spoke with Kristina Cerling, the program director and chair of the department of education, about the history behind the program. She spoke about its relative simplicity in startup. “One day I was meeting with one of the vice presidents," she said. "I was meeting with Dr. Pauls and we talked about just dreams of what we would like to do and in that conversation she and I talked about the idea of doing a kindergarten.” From simply talking about an idea, it grew into a reality. Cerling stated, “I went and met with a couple superintendents who I knew and talked with them about what it would look like if we partnered with a school cooperation to offer a kindergarten program and at that point both were really interested, but I felt strongly that we should work closely with School City Mishawaka because it’s in our neighborhood.” The program actually began to take on speed not much later after that original meeting in the early spring. After that, talks began with the superintendent of the school cooperation. The project quickly gained the support of Bethel’s administration as well as the school board. “Everything came together very quickly really throughout the summer months,” said Cerling, “and so it was a quick turnaround but I think it’s exciting just to be in that partnership.” As the program quickly became a reality, the actual formation of the program had to be established. When asked what exactly the program consisted of, Cerling had no hesitation in describing the program and the partnership in play. “We have kindergarten here on our campus but school city Mishawaka is really specifically responsible for the enrollment, for the hiring of the teacher [and] for some of the curriculum decisions and things like that," she stated. "In everything it’s a partnership. School City Mishawaka provides a principle for the kindergarten teacher but we were able to also meet the kindergarten teacher prior to her being hired and have that final say in her hiring. In terms of the curriculum that is being taught, Cerling had this to say: “The teacher starts with what School City Mishawaka gives her but because we are a lab kindergarten, the idea is that of trying out different teaching methodology and practicing different things so we are able to sit down and form some of the curriculum that we’d like to use for example.” Cerling went on, “School City Mishawaka is responsible for which students enroll, but we said we wanted a cross section of the population from Mishawaka. So we didn’t want it to just be only elite students or children or elite families; we wanted a wide variety of all children who could be represented in Mishawaka.” Cerling also spoke about the cost of the project and said the payment was again a lot of collaboration. “Bethel College paid for some things, Mishawaka paid for some things," she said. "And so they hire and pay for the teacher but we pay for use of the classroom space. We paid for the painting [and] set up of the classroom [but] the playground we had joint cost. So there’s this constant partnership and relationship going back and forth.” As the relationship between School City Mishawaka and Bethel continues to grow, the benefits of the kindergarten lab continue to be seen and acknowledged. Cerling states, “The benefit that I see is of course for the kindergarten students, they get the benefit of having a master teacher who they’re working with, plus an aid and they also end up with our teacher candidates in the classroom with them, working alongside them; so it decreases that ratio a little bit." In terms of the benefits for our Bethel students, Cerling states: “It’s an opportunity for our candidates to practice some of their skills right here on our campus. So for example, in our children literature class they have to read or tell a story activity with a group of students and now they can do that right here in our classroom instead of having to go off campus.” Although there are several benefits, I was interested to know of any potential downfalls within the program, however, there really were not any. In regards to issues Cerling states, "Anytime you start a new partnership and you start a new initiative there are just steps to take and so I’m so thankful that our IT department, the Physical Plant and our Campus Safety who have all had to work so closely with each other and with our administration to make sure that everything is done on our part. We had to completely restructure a classroom space and things like that, so we’re still in process on that. So I don’t think it’s in anyway a con; I’m amazed at what our departments have done, to be able to put everything together in such a short amount of time. Cerling went on, “The only other thing I can think is that it’s just a new relationship and so it’s a lot of time right now of setting up when is this meeting going to happen, when our candidates are going in the classroom. It’s not a con, it’s just a process. I think it’s just navigating the waters of new partnerships and finishing projects.”
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