Puerto Rican Exchange Students Visit Penn State
by Joe Savrock (June 2009)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Ten undergraduate students from Puerto Rico recently completed the two-week Future Educators’ Summer Seminar at Penn State to develop knowledge of research and practices toward school violence prevention and to gain greater appreciation of cross-cultural dynamics in educational settings.
The education majors from Universidad del Este (UNE) in Carolina, Puerto Rico, accompanied by UNE faculty member Mayra Almodovar, participated in workshops and observed school sites to study approaches to contemporary early childhood education programs.
“The seminar is part of a collaborative initiative to encourage an exchange of students between Penn State and Universidad del Este,” explained Maria Schmidt, assistant dean for multicultural programs. “The UNE students engaged in various experiential activities through a rigorous schedule. They worked very hard, showing their passion for the field as well as their eagerness to learn and become quality professionals.
“One of the most meaningful outcomes was seeing them step out of their comfort zones, facing their fears to overcome language barriers,” added Schmidt.
The group worked with several College of Education faculty members, joined two ECE courses, visited local schools, and observed some of the region’s community sites. They made experiential visits to Penn State’s Bennett Family Center, the Child Development Laboratory, the Education Library, Montessori School of the Nittany Valley, and the Easter Seals Lance & Ellen Shaner Child Development Center. They also visited the region’s Amish community to learn about that group’s faith and philosophy of life.
The UNE students lodged on campus at Leete Hall. “This gave them a great opportunity to explore the resources and amenities of our University Park campus,” noted Schmidt.
Under the mentorship of Sandra Rodríguez, seminar coordinator and instructor, the UNE students kept journals of their experiences and produced colorful newsletters designed to inform parents and teachers about the topic of school violence prevention. While developing the newsletters, the students worked in groups according to grade level.
- Mineidys Mancebo, Nattalie Ildefonso, Katherine Marzán, and Abdiel Medina collaborated to create the newsletter titled Preschool Informs for teachers and parents in preschool settings.
- Melissa Osorio, Xiomara Rodriguez, and Nadja Quiñones developed the newsletter Strategies for Parents and Teachers, which was geared towards elementary-school settings.
- Carlos Vázquez, Jody Ann Rivera, and Víctor Rivera produced the newsletter titled ShEphED, an aid for teachers and parents of secondary school students.
On June 15, the last day of their visit, the students held an open seminar in Chambers Building. They made group presentations highlighting the contents of their newsletters and gave individual talks sharing their learning experiences throughout the two weeks.
“It was interesting to see how young children learn through their own cultures,” reflected Jody Ann Rivera. Added Ildefonso, “I like the early childhood centers’ approach of promoting independence in young children so they can explore and work in their own worlds.”
“I learned that children have a potential bigger than we think,” said Victor Rivera. “They just need to be stimulated in the right way.”
Schmidt noted that a reciprocal exchange of Penn State students to Puerto Rico is planned to take place in August as part of a 3-credit course.
Schmidt acknowledges a team of individuals who made the Future Educators’ Summer Seminar possible—including professors James Johnson and Richard Hazler, ECE instructors Nancy Meckley Remi and Annette Searfoss; Education Librarian Karla Schmit; the Prevention Research Center; the faculty and staff at the local early childhood centers; ECE students of the College; Frances Rodríguez, commissioner of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs; and the support of Associate Dean Jacqueline Edmondson.