April 2, 2024

Designed for Action: Education Students Partner with Local Organization and Bring Their Classroom Knowledge to the Table

6 Minutes

York College of Pennsylvania Education students make good use of what they’ve learned in the classroom when they participate in events with the York Area Down Syndrome Association (YADSA), whose goal is to offer support, knowledge, resources, and activities for families with children with Down syndrome.

Two students pose holding hands with a child between them.

York College’s Education program is not only about students learning to teach, but helping them bring out the best in young people from all walks of life.

Education majors put this into action when they take part in events with the York Area Down Syndrome Association (YADSA). Professor Kimberly Kode Sutton, Chair, Department of Education and Director, Special Education Programs, helped to develop the program in the summer of 2014 in collaboration with key members of YADSA. “Every student in the department participates at least once and most participate twice, while some students volunteer to keep coming back,” she explains.

Each semester, Education majors participate in activities involving at least three classes, creating opportunities for students to use what they have learned in courses to make a difference in the community.

Senior Early Childhood Education major Jenna Bleacher (Peach Bottom, PA) will graduate in December 2023, and plans on being an elementary school teacher. She says that all the Education courses, whether they were Special Education courses or not, were extremely beneficial in preparing for this event. She found her classroom knowledge about behavior management particularly useful.

She is grateful for the opportunity to work with such a great organization as YADSA, and says that YCP “professors have given us lots of hands-on experience in the education field and taught us how to be compassionate and loving toward all students. They have taught us how to create developmentally appropriate lessons, engaging activities, and overall amazing learning opportunities for our students.”

Jenna states, “I really learned how to treat all kids as equal and not focus on their disability. The kids had great personalities and brought so much joy to everyone in the room. It showed me firsthand that disabilities do not define you.”

Students and families benefit

Colleen Adamy, Senior Administrative Assistant in the College’s Office of Communications who is active in YADSA and the grandmother of Mason Buchanan (pictured in the photo with Seniors Vienna Soyke from York, PA, and Sara Franks from Dover, PA), says the children, their families, and YCP students all gain significantly from this partnership.

Students get to know children with special needs in the context of their family. They are encouraged to ask questions about special needs and to try to learn more. It gives our future teachers the opportunity to interact with parents in a supportive environment, which is something many beginning teachers find stressful. Professor Sutton says, “The YADSA parents know that YCP students are still developing into their professional teacher roles, and they have always been gracious and open and kind to them.”

Vienna is a Secondary Social Studies Education major with a minor in Music. After graduating, she plans to teach high school social studies in the York County area. She was one of the students put in charge of spending time with the children while the parents attended a separate session, and says she found her Psychology, Sociology, and Special Education classes helpful when working with the children. “These classes helped me prepare to spend time and interact with children who are ‘different’ from others, and how to appropriately accommodate their needs.”

Events on campus follow the same structure. Students and faculty set up and clean up. Families and students enjoy dinner and social time together. YADSA parents then listen to a guest lecture, while the children remain with the YCP students and faculty. The children participate in songs, stories, dancing, crafts, play and other activities. Parents then reunite with their children. After pausing everything during COVID, Professor Sutton says they’ve been back in action starting this past fall semester.

Each class has particular responsibilities. For example, the Teaching Language Arts class designs and executes activity centers that tie in with the theme of each event. Students in Professionalism and Partnerships in Early Childhood Education and Professionalism and Partnerships in Early Childhood Special Education design sensory bins connected to children’s books to give the young children something additional to explore while the bigger kids are doing crafts.

Some YCP students are assigned to participating children and other students are in charge of specific activities. Senior Joshua Dietrich, Secondary Education–Mathematic major (York, PA) plans to teach high school mathematics. At a YADSA event, he had an opportunity to talk with a 21-year-old and his mother about his interests and what a regular day is like for both of them. Josh spent time doing some craft activities with him and they listened to a story together. “This opportunity was incredible,” Josh says, “because I was able to learn a lot from him and be able to have this knowledge to implement activities in my future classroom.”

Carolyne Fodor, President of YADSA, is more than happy with the relationship between her organization and YCP students. She says, “We as a group look forward to our meetings at York College with the Education students. Our children get the benefit of individual attention from the college students while making new friends. It is a great learning opportunity for the students to sit down and talk with the families. They get a perspective of what is like for families with children with special needs and hopefully use that in their future career.”

Professor Sutton adds, “We hope these future teachers appreciate that children with disabilities are children–they play, they laugh, they run, they make crafts, and they act silly, just like all of us. We want our students to carry this experience and that kind of information with them as they head out into the world and assume primary responsibility for the education of young people. Many students with disabilities are educated in the regular education classroom, so this positive experience could have a genuine impact on the lives of children in the future.”