After five years, an immersive learning class is expanding on its elementary book collection for the community by adding a coordinating teaching curriculum.
The projects take small groups of Ball State elementary teaching students from traditional classes for a semester to learn what it is like to serve in an urban community, said faculty project leader Eva Zygmunt.
Students are matched with a community member, who takes them to community and family events.
“A lot of times, we give the students an address [and] they go there, come back and then we talk,” Zygmunt said. “But in order for them to be really good teachers, they need to know the context of the community.”
They focus on Whitley, which is a primarily low-income community, she said.
Last semester’s focus was on literature and finding literature Whitley elementary students could connect with.
“The experiences the kids read in books should be similar to what the kids are doing,” Zygmunt said. “Sometimes, books have people in them that resemble you but aren’t close to what you are doing. We wanted books that authentically represent aspects of these kid’s lives.”
Megan Hunter, a senior elementary education major, said it adds value for children when they can see themselves in a book.
After choosing several books, the immersive class decided the community needed to have the final say in what their children read.
“No one knows the community better than they know themselves,” Hunter said.
The class hosted an event open to all community members where they read the books one morning and talked about them with other community members and the immersive learning students. The community members then voted and chose 20 books they felt were best for the community.
“[Zygmunt] didn’t expect these books to be a vehicle to teach about the history of the community and culture,” she said. “The event really turned into a rich oral history event as well.”
Using a grant from the Ball State Office of the Provost, the group donated several packages of their collection of 20 books to the elementary school, community centers and churches.
The elementary students, who the immersive class had been teaching all semester, also received four books each to take home, making the total books donated by the class nearly 250.
“[The class] made sure that kids were able to interact with the books wherever they were,” Zygmunt said.
Moving forward, students participating in the upcoming semester’s class will create an interdisciplinary curriculum around the 20 books so they can be better utilized to teach the children.
Hunter said she would recommend education students to do an immersive learning experience like this.
“People have an ideal classroom in mind but in reality, it is not perfect,” she said. “These kids come from different backgrounds, and it teaches you to be prepared to deal with those situations that arise in a positive way.”