SPC psychology students are learning, experiencing and giving back all at the same time. Seminole Campus Psychology Professor Sharon Olsen, herself a former SPC student, is teaching her students outside the classroom to make a difference at Ridgecrest Elementary School in Largo.
While Professor Olsen’s out-of-class assignments are the perfect marriage of academics and civic engagement, they also ignite a passion in her students.
After piloting the program over the last year, students from her beginning and advanced psychology classes will spend a minimum of one hour a week this fall serving as mentors, tutors and role models at Ridgecrest. Some are returning to serve again.
Students in her General Psychology class will write a 2,000-word reflective response to their experience, integrating their understanding of psychological theory into their experiences. More advanced students in her Developmental Psychology of the Life Span class will develop an action plan for a project that students in Olsen’s future classes can facilitate.
Olsen’s students come from a wide variety of majors. Some plan to be teachers. Some are pursuing careers in medicine or counseling. So her assignments are structured with enough flexibility to respond to the natural interests of her students.
One of her advanced students, Honey Smith, plans to pursue a career in substance abuse counseling. After serving in the Coast Guard for six years, she is finishing up her last few months on inactive duty ready reserve and pursuing an A.A. degree at SPC. Last year she tutored high school students in an afterschool program, helping them prepare for the FCAT. Next week she starts as a mentor at Ridgecrest Elementary.
“I am excited to develop and submit an action plan to begin an anti-bullying program within Ridgecrest,” said Smith. “I look forward to continuing my volunteering long after my time with Dr. Olsen comes to an end. It is such a wonderful program that allows us to give back to our community.”
Smith has found a real connection between what she is learning about the developmental stages of life in Olsen’s class and her volunteer work with students.
“It has really helped me to be a better mentor to see and understand what they may be going through or what their struggles are.”
Last term, some of Olsen’s students researched the differences and similarities between students in Ridgecrest’s gifted program and general education mainstream classes.
“They are all learning that it is a bigger world than their current experiences,” said Olsen. “They are seeing cognitive and psychosocial development a real world setting. They are learning to recognize and respect social and cultural diversity. This experience is providing a real world framework for their understanding of the theories we discuss in the classroom.”
This week, Olsen met six of her students at the University of South Florida to experience a lecture by Dr. Jane Goodall, the world-renowned scientist known for her research on chimpanzee behavior and environmental conservation. As a result of the experience, some of her students are exploring how they could introduce Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program as part of their action plan assignment with the students at Ridgecrest.
Olsen’s work at Ridgecrest was inspired by Dr. Joseph Smiley, Dean of Social & Behavioral Sciences, who encourages all his faculty to be involved in civic engagement.
“Sharon Olsen’s collaborative partnership with the Ridgecrest Elementary School 360 Project is one example of how faculty are working to take SPC students to a new level of civic engagement,” Smiley said. “We strongly believe it is very important for faculty and students to give back to the community and it is important for the success of SPC students.”
Civic engagement is also part of SPC’s Seminole Community Educational Ecosystem that exposes students in nearby elementary, middle and high schools to the Seminole Campus to stress the value of attaining a college degree.
“This program provides an invaluable service for Ridgecrest students and an invaluable educational experience for SPC students,” said Seminole Campus Provost James Olliver.
The work at Ridgecrest started originally as a part of the 360-degree outreach efforts of Pastor Richard Landon, Anona United Methodist Church, who has since expanded to other elementary and middle school campuses in the area “educational ecosystem.” Landon addressed SPC students at last week’s Working Wednesday event on Seminole Campus.
This year, the SPC students in Olsen’s class will be wearing SPC t shirts provided by student government funding as they volunteer at Ridgecrest, further solidifying their connection to SPC and helping the students to envision a future for themselves as college students.
“I feel like the partnership with SPC is a true win-win,” said Michael Moss, principal at Ridgecrest Elementary. “It is great for the students at Ridgecrest, having a large group of students visiting our school that serve as mentors, tutors and role models. It is really having a positive impact.”
As part of the Ridgecrest 360 program, SPC students visiting the school offer great support for Ridgecrest teachers and enriches their experience by exposing them to the interests of others.
“I also see how it benefits the students from SPC,” Moss said. “I feel like it cultivates a sense of civic mindedness and service learning for them.”
Next week Aimee Stubbs, Learning Specialist in Disability Resources at SPC, will meet with some of Olsen’s students outside of class to help them understand learning differences, what potential challenges they may face with students and strategies and resources that will make them more effective in their roles as mentors and tutors.