"Project SLATE" Brings Colleges Together to Transform How Current and Future Teachers Teach

August 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Four Capital Region institutions of higher learning have banded together to transform the way colleges and universities prepare future teachers.

The College of Saint Rose, The Sage Colleges, Union Graduate College, and Schenectady County Community College along with the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center announced the launch of Project SLATE (Service Learning and Teacher Education), designed to teach future teachers how to use community service as a teaching and learning vehicle.

The partners will expand organized service learning by integrating community service into their undergraduate and graduate curricula. Working as a consortium under a new grant from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, the colleges will share ideas and strategies for creating organized service learning experiences for their pre-service teachers and will develop practice and field experiences with partnering schools in the Capital Region.

The federal agency recently awarded $9 million in highly competitive Learn and Serve America Higher Education grants to just 28 institutions and organizations out of 192 that applied. The Project SLATE colleges will match the federal grant funding, bringing the first-year total to nearly $900,000.

Saint Rose will serve as Project SLATEs grant manager. A new Institute for Service Learning, housed at Saint Rose, will provide the foundation and support for the three-year project. In addition, the institute, working with the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center, will help prepare current teachers for high-quality service learning with ongoing professional development, teacher forums, in-service programs and peer mentoring.

Project SLATE activities over the next three years will impact more than 3,000 future and current teachers, a majority of whom will be employed in high-need Capital Region schools.

"The Sage Colleges are pleased to partner with these fine institutions on Project SLATE, which will enable us to participate in meeting critical needs in our communities," said Dr. Susan Scrimshaw. "Service-learning is one of the best ways for students to learn, and provides them with experience and preparation for a life as engaged citizens. It also provides our colleges with concrete ways to give back to our communities and to model good citizenship. At Sage, we urge our students to be engaged in our local and global communities; to be excellent in academics; and to hone skills relevant to the 21st century. Service-learning embodies all three of these elements; to be engaged, excellent and relevant."

The scope of Project SLATE and the prospect of the sustained effects of integrating service learning in teacher education within the regions colleges promises to transform the settings in which P-12 school children live and learn. Project SLATE seeks to actively engage undergraduate and graduate students in service learning while they are enrolled in pre-service education. Teachers trained to offer service learning in classrooms will increase civic engagement skills and involve their future urban P-12 students in projects to improve their schools and communities.

Research at Cornell University and at the Tufts Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development indicates that children develop in an ecological system; they affect and are affected by the settings in which they spend time. Childrens home and family settings, early care and education programs, health care settings and community learning sites, such as neighborhoods, libraries and playgrounds, impact childrens development; the ways children develop, in turn, shape the home, school and community settings in which they function. Service learning works to shape those settings for enhanced child development and learning.

For service learning projects and activities, Project SLATE will draw on the resources of existing partnerships with diverse youth and family, early childhood, social service and community-based educational enrichment and advocacy organizations in the region. These include Capital Region BOCES; numerous early childhood centers; The Help Yourself Foundation; the Emery Clinic at Saint Rose; Friday Knights, a Saint Rose program for children with autism spectrum disorders; and the College Experience Program for students with developmental disabilities. The State Education Departments Learn and Serve America office will provide program guidance for enhancing community relationships.

Project SLATE partners estimate that the more than 3,000 college students enrolled in the four cooperating colleges will be directly engaged in service learning within coursework and through practice and field experiences by the end of the three-year project. The students will have participated in meaningful service projects or activities as individuals, in small groups or through large group volunteer events, such as National Day of Service, Martin Luther King Day of Service and regional service programs.