History of Experiential Teaching/Learning in University/Public School Partnerships

Beginning in the mid-2000s the author’s university underwent a strategic shift toward “Experiential Learning and Civic Engagement.”

Such an emphasis in pedagogy and teaching denotes the learner as an important source of enhancing and supporting local knowledge. In experiential learning efforts, the learner becomes an active transformational agent in his/her own learning and transforms experience for others in the community. Experiencing is thought to enhance abstract thought and community buy-in, and deepen application of knowledge (Brooks & Brooks, 1993, 2004). Advantages touted in civic engagement efforts locate the learning efforts of university students within local ecologies and have estimated significant economic impact on local and regional economies through volun- teerism, community service, and social action toward change. As a source of human capital, university students (and their professor) are part of a larger discourse of civic engagement and experiential learning prevalent on college campuses across the nation (National Youth Leadership Council, 2001). Indeed, even the impacts that a university student (or her professor) might make upon local communities in our setting have merited recognition as the gains in student’s educational understanding are interpreted as adding to local communities. These gains are argued to impact and translate into a form of investment, viewing human impact as capital (Nafukho, 2004).

The author teaches a university course titled, “Home, School, Community Partnerships,” in an Early Childhood Education Program with a focus on preservice teacher’s civic engagement in low-income rural and urban settings. Local school sites, most in publicly funded elementary schools, are intentionally selected for their demographic variety, including economic, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. Topics in the course include a range of community engagement differentiation strategies for various low-income populations with an intention of dismantling deficit views of young children and their families and positioning preservice teachers to understand their own racial and economic privilege among family cultures beyond their own (Adair, 2008; Fennimore, 2008; Kroeger & Myers, 2013; Wegman & Bowen, 2010). Additionally in this course, we intentionally focus upon the intersection of discourses and practices in context to enable the preservice teacher to understand how mainstream and alternative discourses about rural, urban, and poor children “work,” allowing practicing teachers to either strengthen their practice or deflect their responsibilities toward children and parents (Compton-Lilly, 2003; Kroeger & Lash, 2011; Kroeger & Myers, 2013).

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