Building Bridges: Campus Community Connections in St. Cloud

By Maria Ortiz

With help from a capacity building grant through Minnesota Campus Compact, St. Cloud State University (SCSU) and St. Cloud Independent School District (ISD) 742 developed, “Building Bridges: Campus Community Connections.” The goals of the project were: 1) to enhance and deepen the partnership and collaboration between SCSU and ISD 742 in the face of service learning budget reductions; and 2) to meet the mutual needs identified to enrich student learning among specific ISD 742 and SCSU classrooms and courses.

This project enabled SCSU to increase the infrastructure necessary to support community service-learning; providing opportunities for classroom theory to be practiced in a real-time setting and further institutionalizing service-learning and civic engagement SCSUas a core campus value. This collaborative work created service-learning experiences, fostered college aspirations among ISD 742 students, and met the educational needs and goals of both K-12 and university students. According to Beth Knutson-Kolodzne, SCSU Volunteer Connection Coordinator, even though the grant period is over, the projects it helped to create have continued to produce results.

The Building Bridges project focused on three activities; Reading Tutoring, Spanish Immersion, and English Language Leaner (ELL). The Reading Tutor Project involves SCSU Students in a Special Education class with students’ 4th-6th grade at Lincoln Elementary School in St. Cloud. Through this partnership, ISD 742 students improved their confidence and performance in the subject areas identified by the teachers and SCSU students are provided practical experience in the subject area of their specific course/major.  “The tutoring project still occurs with Lincoln Elementary school with the Special Ed. (SPED) 200 class at SCSU.  This also occurs among the teachers at Lincoln and the special education faculty at SCSU,” explained Knutson-Kolodzne.

The Spanish Immersion Project involves SCSU students in upper division Spanish courses working with students in grades K-1 at Clearview Elementary School in Clear Lake, MN. Through this partnership, language acquisition skills and proficiency are enhanced among all parties. The Spanish Immersion program with Clearview Elementary school is coordinated through the department of Foreign Languages’, Spanish teaching faculty and includes this as both curricular service-learning and co-curricular volunteering.

The English Language Learner (ELL) Project involves a collaboration to coordinate and facilitate a Career & Technical Education Academy for English Language Learners in grades 9-12. This partnership exposes ELL students to college and career options and provides them the opportunity to engage in exploring both. According to Knutson-Kolodzne, “We used to do this over the course of 4-5 days for 2 summers with ELL students in grades 9-12 in District 742.  Now, starting this semester (Spring 2010), we have created a Career & Technical Education (CTE) program focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) initiatives with students, faculty and staff at SCSU that have expertise or interested in those areas.  It is now an 8-week program, which takes place every Tuesday for approximately 3 hours after school.  We call it CTE-STEM for ELL.”

Examples of impact on students are evident through excerpts from SCSU students’ reflection journals from the Spanish Immersion project at Clearview Elementary School:

“This was a great experience for me because I learned that using my Spanish is easier than I thought. It has been great practice and has given me more confidence with my ability to speak.’

“I have learned the importance of taking the time to volunteer. I realize how much I really enjoy doing something for no pay. I think often times people are so concerned about what we can get for ourselves out of everything we do and most of the time people want money. It is nice to revert back to just doing something for the greater good. It feels nice to give.”

Support from the MNCC grant allowed both SCSU and ISD 742 to more fully appreciate the needs, capacities, and energy involved in creating positive, effective partnerships.  The many activities involved in the project allow partners to find better, more effective and efficient methods of working together.

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