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Guest Column - Education in our Community

July 1, 2018

Peter Fox
I'm sure like most "guest column writers" for the Rotary Newsletter, I took a couple of days to dwell over potential topics and the aspects of the rotary that meant the most to me. It wasn't until coming home from work late one night, that the topic nearly knocked me right over. My wife had transformed our living room into a science laboratory and scattered all around the room was a series of boxes housing caterpillar chrysalis in the process of becoming butterflies. As I nearly fell over one of these boxes, I realized my topic should involve what my wife considers one of her many passions; the importance of education in our community.

When we think about a college education, what usually comes to mind is young adults, just out of high school, embarking on a higher education journey. However, our local colleges serve so many more people than just the "typical" college-aged learner.

My wife, Dana Schildkraut, has been working in the educational field at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) for the past three and a half years. Dana is one of the primary leaders of a special federally-funded grant project that links the college to its surrounding community, and specifically, to preschool and elementary school teachers in Berkshire County.

The Improving Teacher Quality (ITQ) grant program operates out of MCLA's Division of Graduate and Continuing Education, and it provides an opportunity for local teachers to continue their own learning in the ever-changing field of education. There are about 60 Berkshire County teachers (from North Adams Public Schools, Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, Pittsfield Public Schools, North Berkshire School Union, Head Start, and Child Care of the Berkshires) involved in the program and they have the opportunity to take special summer classes and attend valuable workshops, all with the goal of helping them expand their pedagogical knowledge.

One of the main focuses of the ITQ program is showing educators how STEAM education can be implemented successfully in their classrooms. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, and it is a model for learning that promotes lessons with multi-disciplines. For example, did you ever think that you could learn science and theater arts at the same time? You absolutely can! Dana told me that in a recent lesson with first and second grade students the class explored how to act out insect and animal life cycles using a drama technique called "tableaux." The students loved it!

Dana explains that young children learn best through hands-on activities, and some students struggle with traditional academic tasks. The interactive STEAM lessons that Dana and the local teachers create allow students to access the content in many ways. A student who might have a hard time expressing him/herself through writing might be an incredible visual artist and really get a chance to shine during a STEAM activity that involves painting or drawing, for example. Overall, STEAM lessons build student confidence, increase engagement, and promote higher order thinking skills.

Be inspired by the Berkshire County educators who are continuing to improve their skills so that they can better teach today's youth. Much like the rotary members I have met over the past couple months, we share a passion to encourage everyone to remain life-long learners.

Author: Peter Fox
Sally Sugarman (Club Member & Windmill Editor)

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