December 22, 2010
The State of Florida's Children, a Rollins College Conference (RCC) course taught by Professor of Psychology Sharon Carnahan about the way children are living in Florida today, began its fall term with a SPARC day trip to the Winter Park Day Nursery (WPDN). A brisk 10-minute walk from the Rollins campus, the WPDN provides a secure, nurturing early education environment for young children that is affordable and supports family diversity. Although children of every income level attend the attractive, accredited facility, about 90 percent are from single-parent or very low income working families.
The students were trained as Rollins Readers to read children s' books aloud in a structured way that supports early literacy. Termed "scaffolding" by psychologist Barbara Rogoff, and described by Lev Vygotsky, the method starts at the young child's level of understanding and gently leads forward through sensitive questioning about the text and other helpful hints. Teachers often cannot provide this individual level of support, so volunteers are of great assistance.
"The behavior of the children was probably the most interesting part. In a room full of two-year-olds, every child acted on a different level, and many developed just over the three months that I visited the school," noted Adele Cornwall (Class of 2014). Students saw the effects that living in a stressed family had on young children too. They watched experienced teachers deal with the occasional child's temper outburst, constant cold and allergy symptoms, and the food needs of many families served by the WPDN's own food bank. "It made me realize that even if I don’t become a teacher, I can help by providing food and clothes," said Daniela Betancourt (Class of 2014).
Students also noted the stresses of community involvement as they worked hard to fit the WPDN into their own busy schedules, and mesh their hands-on help into classrooms with set routines. At first it was awkward, but by the end, the children would shout and smile when students arrived, eager to choose a book to "picture-read" aloud or be read to. “The WPDN was the best part of the course because I was around the kids who we discussed in class,” reflected Zahra Khaki (Class of 2014).
Carnahan designed the WPDN SPARC experience to be as simple, hands-on, and easy to administrate as possible. “So often, we get bogged down when trying to spend time with others in the community, as we plan transportation, volunteer training, and logistics,” said Carnahan. “Reading stories and playing with children in our Winter Park neighborhood – now that is something any Rollins student can do.” RCC Peer Mentors, Amanda Wittebort (Class of 2014) and Vanessa Volkema (Class of 2011), were also a big part of making the WPDN experience work.
To facilitate greater connections, all first-year students participate in The Rollins College Conference (RCC). With 30 different seminar classes to choose from, a small group of 15-17 students is teamed with a professor with whom they explore a subject of mutual interest through reading, writing and experiential learning. Launched in 1994, Rollins was one of the first colleges to offer this style of seminar courses and most colleges and universities have followed suit. To read more about The Rollins College Conference, please visit http://r-net.rollins.edu/news/2010/06/explorations-rcc.html.
Contributed by Professor of Psychology Sharon Carnahan
Professor of Psychology Sharon Carnahan is a developmental psychologist with 20 years of experience working with young children. She is also the director of the Rollins College Child Development and Student Research Center on campus, a laboratory preschool which has been serving Rollins faculty, students and staff since 1975. Carnahan has served on the WPDN volunteer board of directors for five years.