Poetry? Borrrrring, some kids may say. But when best-selling children’s author Janet Wong opens her Poetry Suitcase, things get interesting fast. Pull out a shark, and Wong reads a poem related to it. A bag of noodles; there’s a poem to go with that, too. The children clamor for more.
And the Penn State Abington students in the room, all Elementary & Early Childhood Education (EECE) majors, are just as enthralled by the lesson, adding more high-impact techniques to their teaching toolboxes.
Wong, her Poetry Suitcase, and about 150 children from five elementary schools in economically disadvantaged areas spent the day on the Abington campus recently. The visit was managed by EECE faculty and students and funded by a grant from The Penn State Bookstores, managed by Barnes & Noble. The goals? Fostering a love of literature and an awareness of social justice while providing the children with early exposure to college.
After Wong wowed the children, she delivered a professional development session to the EECE majors. They talked extensively about engaging and connecting with children through literature.
“Poetry takes so little time, and it covers a lot of content. For example, reading a poem about a bully. You can spend 30 seconds reading a poem about a bully and potentially save some kid’s life,” Wong said, also referencing poems about yoga and fake news.
They discussed social justice, a recurring theme in Wong’s work, and its impact on kids.
“If you say nothing, you are saying it’s okay. Doing good work can be as simple as reading a poem that has impact, that makes children think,” she continued.
While Wong met with some EECE majors, others worked with Abington faculty Kathleen Fadigan, Rachael Brown, Lisa Morris, Christine Krewson, Frances Veale, and Michael J. Bernstein to teach the children lessons in science, psychology, math, and criminal justice.
Katie Fennessey, a junior EECE major, said the experience was valuable.
“By interacting with the community schools, I get more exposure to different cultures. It will make me a better teacher in the future," she said.
"Every single day in this major, I learn methods, styles and information I can use every day in my future as a teacher," she continued. "We learn how to teach with passion and why and how to teach."
The partnership schools, located in struggling socioeconomic areas, work closely with Abington faculty and students. It's a mutually beneficial relationship.
Several times a year, they collaborate:
- The Abington students donate time and talent, spending time at the elementary schools observing and teaching mini-lessons.
- The children come to Abington to learn about science, about writing from popular children’s authors such as Janet Wong, and Abington students teach mini-lessons. Equally important, the children are exposed to a college campus — likely a first for many.
- Abington faculty host professional development with experts in literacy, diversity, and other specialties for the education majors and invite teachers from the partnership schools to the trainings, too.
EECE faculty established community partnerships with elementary schools located in the Philadelphia, Norristown, Bensalem, and Abington school districts that reflect the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the region. Combining theory and practice, junior-level EECE majors apply culturally responsive pedagogy in these practicum experiences. Culturally responsive pedagogy is a style of teaching in which the students’ cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to advance academic achievement.
Penn State Abington, formerly the Ogontz campus, offers baccalaureate degrees in 19 majors at its suburban location just north of Philadelphia. Nearly half of our 4,000 students complete all four years at Abington, with opportunities in undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more. Students can start the first two years of more than 160 Penn State majors at Abington and complete their degrees at University Park or another campus. Lions Gate, our first residence hall, opened in August 2017.