Learning Outside Classroom Invaluable to Upcoming Graduates
Before graduating, students pursuing degrees in early childhood education at Pennsylvania College of Technology get hands-on experience in child-care centers, gaining lessons that cannot be learned in a classroom alone.
"When you go on your practicum, you truly learn who you are and what kind of teacher you will become," said Emily A. Crosby, of Mifflinburg, who recently completed her practicum at the Mifflinburg Children's Center and plans to graduate May 19. "You can see how you will be with the children."
According to Billie A. Coffman, associate professor of early childhood education, the practicum students, all in their final semester before earning associate degrees, see firsthand all of the book knowledge they've acquired about how children learn and how to interact with families. They learn the importance of observing children in order to assess their stage of development and plan accordingly. They also learn the difference between planning an activity and leading it.
"We write lesson plans all the time in classes, but writing a lesson plan and implementing a lesson plan are two different things," Coffman said. "The students realize how flexible you have to be and that you have to adapt on the spot. â¦ They're the things they cannot learn in a classroom, that just happen."
"It's so much different from sitting in a classroom learning about working with children to actually applying what we have learned through these hands-on experiences with the children," said Krystal A. Kappine, of Plymouth Meeting, who completed her practicum on campus in the college's Children's Learning Center. "This was a wonderful experience that truly proved to me my love of working with children. I enjoyed getting to know all of the children and their families, which helped me to ensure high quality and appropriate activities and techniques for them."
The students are required to spend at least 225 hours working directly with children during their practicum. They must work at an early-childhood education center for a minimum of three five-hour days each week. They also must plan 25 activities in all areas of development: cognitive, social, emotional and physical.
"Even though it's a three-credit practicum, the amount of work is very similar to student teaching," Coffman said.
The practicum students help in the classroom and interact with children just as the teacher would. They must adhere to all the policies of the facility and develop their lesson plans according to the facility's curriculum. To prepare them, the Penn College faculty teach them a variety of curricula in the classroom. The students also participate in professional-development activities, which include staff meetings, in-service days or outside meetings and networking, and participating in local, state and national conferences. These experiences help the student to begin to see the importance of conducting themselves as professionals.
"Our students really do a lot," Coffman said. "That's why they're hired."
The college has agreements with more than 20 child-care sites and school districts where students have been placed during the early childhood education major's 18 years. Among frequent practicum sites are the Children's Learning Center, where four students are placed each semester; Lycoming-Clinton Head Start, which accepts two or three practicum placements each semester, and Lewisburg Community Child Care.
"Ninety percent of the time, the students are hired at their practicum site," Coffman said.
Crosby is a testament to that. She has been hired to work as a preschool teacher at the Mifflinburg Children's Center, where she completed her practicum. At Lewisburg Community Child Care, 18 employees are former Penn College students, Coffman said, and she estimates 85 percent completed a practicum there.
Because of the likelihood a practicum will lead to a job after graduation, in cases such as Crosby's â when a student's hometown is within an hour of the college and he or she wants to return to that town after graduation â Coffman tries to find a practicum site there.
Each practicum involves a three-way training agreement among the student; Coffman, as practicum adviser; and the supervising teacher at the child-care site.
Coffman first places practicum students with facilities that have earned accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and that have earned a Keystone Star Four rating. If she can't find a four-star facility, she will place the students at a two- or three-star site. Students are placed with supervising teachers who hold a degree in early childhood education or a related major.
Crosby said her practicum experience, during which she worked with 10 children under age 3, five of whom are also under age 2, has been invaluable.
"Spending five hours a day, three days a week with the children is where you really learn," she said. "Before the practicum, I was very nervous, but now I feel very confident to work with children and with their families and to work with other staff members."
She has also learned a lot about herself. Originally planning to work with kindergarten students, she discovered through her practicum that she really enjoys working with infants and toddlers.
"I've learned how much I truly love working with the children," she said. "I'm excited to get out into the working world. I'm excited to teach and watch the children grow and learn. It's extra special for me because I've accomplished so much as a young mother. I want to set an example for other young mothers that you can still go on and accomplish your dreams."