Kindergarten student Wyatt Blevins and Berea College junior Brandi Mills laugh while playing a word game at Camargo Elementary School (Montgomery County). Photo by Amy Wallot, March 23, 2012

Kindergarten student Wyatt Blevins and Berea College junior Brandi Mills laugh while playing a word game at Camargo Elementary School (Montgomery County). Photo by Amy Wallot, March 23, 2012

By Matthew Tungate

A Berea College elementary education student asked Camargo Elementary 4th-grade teacher Amy Givens if she could take pictures of anchor charts hanging in the 12-year veteran’s classroom. The college student said she had been talking to one of her professors about what she had seen in Givens’ room and how it reminded her of a book she had read in class called “Reading with Meaning” by Debbie Miller.

“It was actually a book I had read, too,” Givens said. “We had a really good conversation about the importance of having a reference that students can refer to in order to remember content. I think it was important for her to realize that a text she was studying in class was being used to impact instruction in an actual classroom.”

But the college student wasn’t a student teacher or observer. She was one of about 20 juniors in Berea College’s elementary educator-preparation program who volunteer in classrooms at the Montgomery County elementary school every Friday.

“I would highly recommend a program like this to others,” Givens said. “It is wonderful to have professional conversations with teacher-prep students. They can bring in new ideas they are learning in the classroom, as well as decrease the student-teacher ratio. My students have had much more small group and one-on-one time as a result. The thought of helping prepare future teachers is also very rewarding.”

Those are some of the many benefits of the Camargo Connection, according to its two organizers.

Larry Dixon, principal at Camargo Elementary, and Bobby Ann Starnes, Berea College chairperson of the Department of Education Studies, met in early December to hash out the program.

Dixon said there was an obvious connection between Camargo, where 75 percent of students are on free or reduced-price meals, and Berea College, which is geared toward exemplary students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

“We’re hoping that through this connection, our kids can see, ‘Hey, I can go to college,’ and ‘Hey, I can be successful,’” he said.

Starnes agreed.

“These (college) kids have all come out of situations at least as challenging as the kids at Camargo, and they have made it to college,” she said.

Starnes said she was looking for a school where teachers would allow students in Berea’s junior-level Integrated Curriculum classes to do more than observe and one-on-one tutoring.

Normally college students don’t get to stand up in front of a class or plan for a whole class, and “we wanted to find a place where they could have those experiences while they were young,” she said.

Starnes said the collaboration took off immediately. Every teacher at Camargo was willing to participate and they even organized how they would integrate the college students, she said.

“The school has it so together,” Starnes said. “They really do.”

Berea students get up at 6 a.m. to be at Camargo by 8 a.m. every Friday. Starnes said she told them they could get to the school at 8:30, but the teacher-prep students said they wanted to be there when school starts.

“They love being with kids,” she said.

About 20 Berea College students work in the 700-student school, which has about 55 teachers, Dixon said.

He said the college students spend Friday mornings working with students on reading and mathematics, which he thinks are two of the most challenging subjects for new teachers.

“What it does for students who are aspiring teachers, it gives them a pretty good foundation for what it will be like when they do their student teaching and when they get their first job,” he said.

Fifth-grade teacher Dawn Justice said the Berea student teacher working with her “made the comment of not realizing how much is involved in teaching: preparing, instructing, grading and organizing. Seeing the ‘whole picture’ seemed to open his eyes to the magnitude of the teaching profession.”

Diana Jackson, a 2nd-grade teacher, said she entered the classroom almost six years ago with little experience and was overwhelmed.

“Giving the Berea students an opportunity to see the real classroom from multiple aspects is very beneficial –from creating lesson plans, centers and formative assessments to grading assignments, decorating doors and more. This firsthand experience will be knowledge gained for a lifetime,” she said.

Fourth-grade literacy teacher Karen Mills agreed, noting the opportunity the college students have to interact with students and to teach lessons.

“They have seen many aspects of teaching – observed teachers planning/collaborating together, teaching lessons and reteaching lessons based on assessment data. They have also observed and joined in with teachers as we provide immediate feedback to students and assist them in revising work and responses,” she said. “I feel all of these things will benefit them as they prepare not only for their student teaching experience, but also their teaching career.”

Third-grade teacher Nikki Lewis said she and her students also have benefited from having a Berea College student in her classroom.

“My students enjoy seeing her on a weekly basis, and it gives them a new face to look forward to. It has been beneficial for her to be able to not only observe, but interact with the students as well. She is preparing to teach a lesson in the weeks to come and has been able to aid in lessons I have taught,” she said. “As for myself, I have been able to share ideas, tips and knowledge that I have acquired and given the students a different perspective. She has spent some time with me asking questions that you may not be able to or think to ask during some classes due to time, thought or size. It has also allowed me to reflect on some of my teaching styles, and she has shared some of her strategies as well.”

Third-grade teacher Christy Rose has been very impressed with her Berea College student’s professional attitude and enthusiasm.

“He is eager to ask questions and wants to have discussions surrounding professional growth and various teaching methods,” she said. “I anticipate that he will become an excellent teacher one day, and I don’t doubt that this experience will improve his first year teaching and beyond.”

Rose said she looks forward to working with the college students.

“The veteran teacher has the luxury of experience, but the college student has the luxury of learning the most up-to-date professional techniques,” she said.

Dixon said the college students have brought new ideas, and they look for ways to supplement what is happening in the classroom.

“New people bring excitement and exuberance that’s awesome,” he said. “You just have to have that in a school.”

The elementary students miss the college students on the few Fridays they haven’t come to the school, Dixon said.

“Our students here really look forward to having them visit,” he said. “It’s just another person to pay attention, maybe, and that’s real critical for success with kids who may not get as much attention as they need.”

Starnes said the college students, who receive no class credit for working in the school, love working with the students, too. She said they come back Friday afternoons and tell her everything that happened that day.

“They are so committed, because every week they are in classrooms with kids that they care about and teachers that they care about, and they want what they do to be the best that it possibly can be because real kids are involved in this,” Starnes said.

And it is showing in their college class work, she said.

“For our kids in our program, having this opportunity to take what they’re learning in classrooms here, and going to a school where they feel connected and safe and like they belong, and being able to make the connections between theory and practice, has so increased the quality of their work and commitment to their work,” she said. “For our kids, it’s been remarkable.”

Larry Dixon,, (859) 497-8776
Bobby Ann Starnes,, (859) 985-3539