Experiential Learning Benefits the Whole Community
Sackville Schools 2020 recently met with the Provost’s Committee on Experiential Learning at Mount Allison, given our desire to work with all levels of formal and informal education across the community in developing a model of exceptional, innovative and integrated learning based on our rich learning history and strategic employment situation. Mount Allison University precedes the existence of the Town of Sackville and over the past 175 years, education has become the central focus of the community.
The fact that Mount Allison is currently reviewing its strategic direction, including a review of the role of experiential learning, is quite timely. Our plan for 2020 is that Sackville will become an integrated, community-based education system that will attract students, families and businesses to our Town. Our proposed community-engaged learning strategy would include all levels of education, from pre-school levels to elementary, middle, secondary and post-secondary studies at Mount Allison, as well as lifelong learning efforts embraced by the Tantramar Seniors’ College and the Tantramar Adult Learning Centre.
Proposing a Strategy
In our meeting with the Experiential Learning Committee, we proposed the following strategy:
In looking at the central role that we see Mount Allison playing in the Sackville teaching and learning model, we wish to propose that Mount Allison adopt a strategic area of focus that embraces community-engaged learning. This would include the creation of a shared Office for Community-Engaged Learning with participation across all levels of education and the larger community.
Community engaged learning, sometimes called community service-learning, integrates service and volunteer experiences within academic courses or extra-curricular programs. With a strong emphasis on inclusive partnerships between universities and a range of community organizations, clear objectives are set for both the student learning that occurs and the resulting benefits to the community. In this unique, Sackville-based continuum of experiential learning, teaching and learning would take place anywhere along the continuum, so university students could work with younger students, teachers and parents, and these groups might also accelerate their learning and professional development by working within the university-community context.
Community-Engaged Learning Office
How an integrated and seamless Sackville Community-Engaged Learning Office might Work:
1. Work Experience (cooperatives, internships, clinical and practica)
Internships and cooperative programs involve partnerships with pre-schools, schools, businesses, and non-profit organizations who accept students into an teaching, learning or skill-based situation in order to give the student experience in his/her chosen field of interest. These experiences involve students in their chosen academic and possible future professional environments. Internships may or may not include an academic credit. Practica and cooperative programs normally include an academic credit. Working with the education and community organizations within the Sackville region would open up hundreds of possible opportunities.
2. Undergraduate Research/Inquiry-based Learning
Undergraduate research/inquiry-based learning means undergraduate students have opportunities to conduct original research. This could mean working with a professor on his/her research as well as an independent project where students work with teachers, parents and community groups. This is usually an opportunity for academic credit and creates a true learning laboratory within the community.
We believe that this model would be unique within Canada, representing a true partnership between students and educators across all educational levels, as well as a range of community partners, local and provincial governments, businesses and non-profit groups. This model would give students the opportunity to get out of the classroom and lecture halls and apply what they are learning in a real-world setting, addressing real-world issues and problems at the local and regional level. It would allow younger students to engage with students and educators at the secondary and post-secondary levels, as well as direct engagement and experiences for Mount Allison students and faculty to work with students and teachers in the local schools. Such a model affords everyone involved with a new and creative approach to teaching and mentoring students and creating an advanced learning community.
If we imagine a Sackville Community Engagement Model, there are many possibilities for engagement. Examples might include:
- MTA psychology students and faculty studying language acquisition, literacy and reading skills work with kindergarten and grade one students and teachers in developing their reading skills over a term or entire academic year.
- Mount Allison mathematics, history, English, geography and Chemistry professors and their senior students conduct professional development sessions with teachers at the middle and high school levels, where the MTA students are registered in disciplinary-based experiential learning courses, perhaps through independent study designations.
- The Mounties in Motion concept is fully operationalized to provide thousands of hours of university student-supported tutoring in all areas of study across the elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels.
- Commerce students deliver community-based business and non-profit sector business plan, marketing and social media services.
- Secondary students who wish to gain experience in such areas as culinary arts, carpentry, automotive repair, horticulture are connected to local professionals and businesses for cooperative placements and real-world learning.
- Secondary students who excel are offered a wide range of university courses, as well as university courses offered in the school, including MTA student interns as part of the program delivery (a much expanded Tantramar Advantage Program)
- Students hoping to learn to read music or play a musical instrument, have access to musicians and musical programs by being integrated into the MTA music programs, including local community outreach in the schools, hospital and seniors homes.
Sackville Schools 2020 members continue to work with all of our community partners to share our vision of what education might look like in our community over the next few years. The Experiential Learning Committee will be reporting to the President’s Advisory Council later in April and we remain hopeful that they will embrace this exciting new model. Stay tuned!