Suzanne Gulledge is a professor in the UNC School of Education and a CCP small grant recipient working in Caswell County.
The first semester of the CCP grant funded Carolina ACES (Academic Curriculum Enrichment Students) project wrapped in December. The initiative that brought Carolina students to N.L. Dillard Middle School in Yanceyville, NC was a satisfying and beneficial academic experience and a positive example of the power of experiential education and service learning.The ACES project resulted in some unanticipated, yet positive, opportunities. Many of which were a result of relationships forged during the course of the semester. In addition to the content based instruction and enrichment that the ACES students provided on regularly scheduled visits, several Carolina students regularly returned to the school to assist with the after school program on their own time. Additionally, a number of the participating college students reported that their academic interest in education and schooling was forged by the conversations they had with several of the Dillard teachers. Three of the Dillard teachers took a particular interest in the project and offered to answer questions and lead discussions with the Carolina students during their own planning periods.
Project interest was not limited to teachers and student participants, as even ancillary staff and non-classroom based professionals at the school became engaged. Observing the individual tutoring sessions, the media specialist took the initiative to participate in our enrichment efforts and offered helpful insights about the community surrounding the school in Yanceyville.
My graduate student assistant Adam Jordan and I were especially pleased with the seminar discussions, which were held on the van during the hour travel time to and from Yanceyville. Holding class sessions during the hours of travel turned out to be an especially productive aspect of the first semester project. The opportunity to have an educational experience, and subsequently debrief and discuss it in the immediate aftermath of the effort was a particular benefit. Such an opportunity is uncommon in service learning courses. In other such classes, the actual experience is often separated by a significant amount of lag time between the experience, the discussion and the opportunity “process it.”
Our class sessions were dynamic and powerful. The “raw material” of experiences that we discussed each week was fresh and the students’ recounting of those experiences had authenticity and emotion. Each seminar session was very lively! Moreover, the hours of class time seemed to pass much more quickly on the van than they do in a traditional classroom. The ACES project is the best example of experiential learning pedagogy that I have encountered in my teaching career.
Administrators at N.L. Dillard Middle School have assured us that they are anxious for ongoing collaboration. Students have recommended the project to other Carolina students and interest in additional opportunities is significant. Teachers at the school have offered a number of suggestions for expansion projects. The professional opportunities for Carolina faculty and students to work with Caswell schools are apparent. Furthermore, there is the possibility of additional professional development for teachers as well as extension of their efforts to support the academic achievement of the students in Yanceyville with assistance from Carolina students and faculty. Work in Caswell County is proving to be mutually beneficial and satisfying for those involved in the Carolina ACES project.