Walt Paquin shares his experience of bringing students from Bluffton University to Chicago for short-term programs. To learn more about bringing a group, check out the Group Programs tab.
Each year Bluffton University students embark on a three week cross cultural trip to locations domestically and internationally. While most destinations are offered every other year, the one location that is repeated each year is Chicago. Each May I step out of my “normal” role of Social Work professor and accompany students on the cross cultural experience seminar through Chicago Center.
When we first arrive many are nervous about living in an urban area. For some, the city is every bit as challenging and uncomfortable as they expected. However, most are surprised by how alive the city is and what it has to offer. While in Chicago we often attend at least two events in the theater district and several smaller productions throughout the city. The students also enjoy exploring on their own, going to baseball games, museums, shopping on the Magnificent Mile and going to Navy Pier just to name a few of their own excursions.
Public transit is one feature that dominates the students thinking. At the start of the trip they are always concerned about knowing which bus or train to catch and missing a stop or looking unaware. By the time we are there for three weeks they feel comfortable and are even surprised that other “tourists” will ask them how to use CTA. They are amazed that it takes so long to get to work or to an event in the evenings.
One of the biggest challenges the students face is getting out of their comfort zones. Many of them come to this experience with preconceived ideas about the city and what they will encounter. They are anxious and this often restricts what they see and how they interact with the world around them. In these ways they can often miss some of the “big picture” ideas or issues. The Chicago Center does an excellent job creating places for the students to experience a wide range of cultures from African American to Puerto Rican and LGBTQ. They also experience all three major religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism). Virtually no student has ever been to a mosque for prayers or a Shabbat service. The exposure to these services helps students better understand some of the connections these three religions share.
When the students are asked why they choose Chicago over the other cross cultural experiences, their main reason is the internship. Instead of having homestays like many of our cross cultural experiences, Chicago students are placed in a seven day internship. These range from schools to chamber of commerce and medical settings. The students learn a great deal about their future professions. This year one student updated an organizations social media sources, another designed the layout for use in Streetwise and last year a student wrote a PSA. The educations major are always excited to have experienced a classroom setting and are aware that many of the children are more diverse than the children in rural northwest Ohio.
None of this would be possible without the help and support of the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture. As a faculty member, the work the staff at the Center does allows me great freedom in working with the students. I know I do not have to worry about transportation, tickets, schedules or other administrative details. This allows me the time and space to listen to students and touch base with them as we are going through each event. The Center staff also brings a wealth of knowledge both about the city and student interactions. For me the relationships with the Chicago Center and the staff have been the most rewarding part of the last two years.
The Urban Apprenticeship is an exciting opportunity we offer Chicago Center alumni that have just graduated college. More than a job it offers opportunities for learning and skill development in a supportive urban learning community.
One of the well-known benefits of the Chicago Center is its propensity for showing up in your life at the exact right time. As a student, I chose to participate in the Chicago Center program because they spoke in my class at the exact time I was trying to figure out how to spend my summer and what kind of internship would benefit me the most. I knew instantly the program was the perfect choice for me, and exactly what I needed at that time in my life. It was the same when they offered me a position, a year later.
I was very nervous when it came to thinking of going straight on to graduate school. I could barely even get myself to apply, but when the Chicago Center was suggested to me, I applied without any hesitation. When I got the phone call from Emily, letting me know I had gotten the LearnCHICAGO Coordinator position, I recall literally jumping for joy. I had gotten so much out of my experience as a student, I couldn’t wait to begin working for the Chicago Center and expanding on that experience.
My position was the perfect fit for me. Coordinating our short term groups this past year has definitely been equal parts rewarding and fun. Each of these groups has been so unique and it was truly enjoyable to get to see so many people experience the city for the first time through the programs I planned. They weren’t the only ones with new experiences though. Accompanying them throughout their visits, I was exposed to many businesses, people, and places I would not otherwise have known. I designed programs around all sorts of themes: Latin@ Studies, Social Work, Education, Exercise Science, Public Health, Faculty Development, etc. Many of these areas were nearly, or completely, unfamiliar to me. However, my lack of knowledge in these areas revealed to me another advantage of the Chicago Center.
The permanent staff at the Chicago Center are the most amazing resources anyone could ask for. Whether I was nervous about my own abilities or I needed suggestion from those wiser than I, I knew I could go to any of the staff here and immediately be put at ease. I needed all of their input to make a program work, and they were always available to help. This is one of the biggest aspects of working here that made this a perfect just-out-of-college job. The office is a tight-knit unit and everyone works together and supports one another to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. I learned not only to believe in my own abilities through this position, but also how to trust in and take advantage of the abilities of those around me.
As I write this, I am about a week away from ending my year with the center – Eek! I know I am ready to move on to my next step though, which is graduate school. I will be starting my Master’s in Social Work, in just a few short weeks, at Loyola University Chicago. I am not done with the city yet, and may never be, all thanks to the love for it that was instilled in me during my first experience with the Chicago Center.
We’d like to thank Mary for telling us about her experience and letting us share it with our potential students and alumni!
Receiving the opportunity to be a Chicago Center Apprentice was truly a serendipitous occasion. I had graduated from college roughly half of a year prior and now that I had caught up on some long-overdue sleep and taken time to enjoy my summer months, it was time to be serious and find a big person job. Naturally, a day job related to theatre and the arts would be optimal, and I didn’t do the Chicago Center internship program just so I could kiss Chicago goodbye and never return. I had an interest in living and working in Chicago for a very long time and I thought this may be a way to get my foot in the door, so to speak. So, of course, I applied, interviewed, and was ecstatic upon finding out they wanted to take me on!
I moved to Chicago on January 3, 2013 and was greeted by fellow apprentices Eric Highers (who I knew from the internship program) and Justine Sawyer (one of my sorority sisters from my alma mater), and felt right at home! The city was certainly colder and snowier than when I was a student, but many details from my memory came back to me- navigating the CTA, shopping in Lakeview, fantastic food of all kinds. On my first day, I learned that I was the Practicum Coordinator, the apprentice who helps plan orientation and class events for the long program students, as well as assisting with class. I was swiftly thrown into the swing of things as far as being an employee of the Chicago Center. I learned how collaborative the office is, as well as how efficiently we must work to ensure that participating students and staff have an enriching experience.
The long program students arrived and I gradually got into the groove of things; planning events, communicating with resources, and of course, driving. It was exciting being a part of the planning process and seeing how programs are put together. I enjoyed revisiting sites and people that I remembered from my time as a student and watching the students for the first time hear Ranjana Bhargava discuss her arranged marriage and Jose Guerrero emphasize that there is no “art for art’s sake”.
One big challenge directly related to being Practicum Coordinator was placing May Term students in internships. I drew on my experience as a student trying to find an internship and remembered how tenacious I had to be. I made a plan for where I would try to place the students (with second and third choices), and I found myself juggling incoming and outgoing phone calls. At times, I thought I was close to getting a student placed at a site, and then I would receive word that it wouldn’t work out. Eventually, all of the supervisors confirmed that they would take on the students and all I needed was a few logistical details. One day, one of the supervisors emailed me and said that she would only be able to take one of the two students I had placed with her, leaving the other without an internship. This happened roughly twenty minutes before I had to dispense placement information to the students. Emily told me to contact Mark Walden about placing the student. I immediately called him and explained the situation and he agreed to take on the student. It worked out well, because that student ended up being involved in some important projects at the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce and I think he had a great experience. We had placement check-in to see how the students were doing at their internships and it was gratifying to hear them say how pleasantly surprised/ excited they were. A few of them turned to me and thanked me for placing them where I did.
I wrapped up my time as Practicum Coordinator in August and worked on lining up theatre gigs and researching apartments and, oh yes, finding my next day job. I ended up living at the Boulevard for a spell, but I knew that I needed to find some source of income, as well as a place to live. The clock was ticking. Towards the end of my stay at the Boulevard, the Chicago Center approached me (serendipitously!) about a position that needed to be filled. They wanted to help me continue to make a life in the city, and offered me a part-time Group Living Coordinator position. The position would entail working with Lane as my supervisor to address maintenance and interpersonal concerns at the Boulevard and assisting with orientation events. They would house me at the Everett apartment again, and being part-time, I would receive a stipend, but also have time in my schedule to pursue supplemental employment and theatre work. I was incredibly grateful that they were willing to work with my unconventional schedule, and took the position in September. It has been great relating to students in a different capacity, and I am glad to be on the staff of the Chicago Center again. Nowadays, I am also busy with rehearsals (I have worked on and acted in a handful of shows so far), voice and dance lessons, as well as temping and other short-term paid gigs. I have reconnected with Stage Left Theatre (where I interned) and I continue to make new theatre connections in the city. It is definitely a juggling act at times, but having good communication and support makes it doable. I am trying to incorporate what I learned from my first shot as an apprentice, and I hope to come away from this experience with improved organizational skills and a more entrepreneurial spirit.
The Urban Apprenticeship is an exciting opportunity we offer Chicago Center alumni that have just graduated college. More than a job it offers opportunities for learning and skill development in a supportive urban learning community.
The apprenticeship started in 1990 and grew out of the mutual interests of Chicago Center alums to prolong their contact with Chicago Center and the Center’s interest in strengthening its staff and program. It has exceeded expectations in both arenas and has become a great strength of Chicago Center. The Urban Apprentice usually spends one full year in residence at Chicago Center. This month Ashley Baumann, Practicum Coordinator talks about her experience with Chicago Center.
When I received an email from Chicago Center about the Urban Apprenticeship, I knew right away I wanted to apply. Receiving the phone call from Emily Nelson about my position as the Practicum Coordinator for Chicago Center brought pure excitement; I could hardly say anything on the phone. Patiently waiting until August, when the apprenticeship started, I began to reflect on my experience as a student attending the Chicago Center. The apprenticeship was not only a new beginning for me, but an extension to my experience.
I grew up in a small town in northern Michigan and I also attended Alma College, which was located in a rural town in mid-Michigan where I graduated with a degree in Sociology. Attending Chicago Center opened me up to so many different experiences. The Communities and Culture’s seminar was one of the greatest highlights as a student. I was not only living in an urban setting for the first time, but also having so many hands on experiences that taught me so much about Chicago and myself. I became more comfortable and independent with myself.
Reflecting on my experience as a student is ongoing. Not only do I reflect on my experience as a student, but I reflect on the past five months of my apprenticeship. As the Practicum Coordinator I assist with the seminar, which not only connects with my experience as a student, but builds a deeper foundation as an apprentice. I am able to not only enjoy each weekly seminar, but also continue to learn so much about the city and different neighborhoods. I have developed a greater independence in my position as the Practicum Coordinator and have gained knowledge that will always benefit me. Attending the weekly seminar is very rewarding. I am able to see how each student grows throughout their Chicago Center experience. Not only do I have the opportunity to witness this growth, each student discovers more about themselves.
The Urban Apprenticeship has helped me extend my time in Chicago and continue to grow and learn as an individual. I have developed and grown as a person and I am only half way through my apprenticeship. It will definitely be hard for me to say goodbye to the Center. My time has been well spent thus far at the Center. Every day is a new and exciting adventure. I have been fortunate to have such an amazing job.
We’d like to thank Ashley for telling us about her experience and letting us share it with our potential students and alumni!
During her time as a student of our program, Julee Freeman, Fall 2013 Urban Teaching Practicum, shared her experience of living with other students of the program in our student housing facility, the Boulevard.
by Julee Freeman
Before I came to Chicago, I was under the impression that by leaving the small town and entering the big city my life would somehow become glamorous. I certainly have those opportunities – from a concert series in the park, to student tickets to the Chicago Lyric Opera, even the plethora of late night excursions downtown. There is always something to do in Chicago, sadly I’m always too tired to do much of anything.
I commute an hour to and from work every day. I’m happy to find a seat on the bus but frequently that joy is replaced with paranoia when I can’t tell if the seat is wet or just cold. To put this in context – sitting on a wet bus seat is equivalent to eating yellow snow. I work about 8 hours a day and by the time I return home I’m so exhausted all I do is grade papers, eat and sleep.
My weekends are filled with work. Between journaling, lesson planning and my KPTP (education majors know what I’m talking about), I barely have time to sit back and enjoy myself. That doesn’t mean I hate my life and that I do nothing fun. In fact, I’m having the time of my life in Chicago! I owe most of this to my Chicago Center Family.
The Chicago Center of Urban Life and Culture owns an apartment building in Hyde Park that is used for student housing. Fun fact: our house, lovingly referred to as the Boulevard, was recently featured on the season two premiere of Chicago Fire… it was on fire.
The third floor houses ten student teachers from various colleges around the Midwest. Some are from Wisconsin schools, two are from Luther College in Iowa and one is from a small liberal arts school in Michigan. The rest of us are from Kansas colleges and have bonded over the daunting task of the KPTP. The final resident of third floor is Michael Jordan… ok so not the actual MJ but a life size cardboard cutout!
“They are amazing and I love them!” said Jenny Dwyer another Bethany College student teacher who lives on third floor. It’s interesting because we each have different backgrounds and personalities. It’s like they stuck ten complete strangers in a house together, except unlike the Real World we actually live and work in the real world.
“We look out for each other” continued Dwyer. It’s nice knowing that if you’re having a tough day or need to take a break and blow off some steam, someone is there for you. Sometimes we go out and do something “glamorous” but most times we sit at the dinner table having awesome conversations or watching football with our crazy “former Sterling football player” roommate, there is rarely a dull moment on third floor.
We’re kind of like the Gumbo we made on our first night at the Boulevard. We each are extremely unique flavors but we make some pretty good food.
For the past 10 years, Nancy Friesen, Urban Teaching Practicum Director, has brought in alumni who are currently teaching in Chicago to connect with our current students. This gives our students the opportunity to hear from people who have both experience in our program and experience finding a job in the city post-graduation.
What advice do you have for us as we begin our careers? What were your first weeks in the Chicago Public Schools like? How did you get your job? How did you manage reciprocity between Illinois and your home state? What do you wish you’d been told before you started?
These were just some of the questions posed last week to fifteen local teachers– alumni of our student teaching program—who returned to our Seminar class to share pizza and their experiences. Their teaching situations are as varied as their paths to their current jobs. Some teach in the schools where they student taught, some teach in Charter schools, some are in their second or third classrooms in as many years. A few are working on Master’s degrees. Many are living right around us in Hyde Park, and many are living with or keeping up with friends they made during their student teaching semester. It was a reunion for alums too as they greeted former housemates they don’t get to see often in their busy lives.
The alums spoke of how they used their networks to find positions and of delivering resumes to many schools. Some were poised to interview from many miles away. They discussed how to frame student teaching experiences so they are impressive to hiring administrators, what it takes to get certification, and what it’s like to wait until August for competing job offers. They spoke of positions cut as funding evaporates and of building arts programs where there had been none.
We talked about lessons learned while student teaching through Chicago Center that have served them as beginning teachers. They have accepted the challenges of jobs throughout the city, due in part to how comfortable they became traveling through various neighborhoods and working with students in them.
As I listened to these young teachers, it became clear to me that they are the experts now. They have learned to balance never-ending work demands with home life, and have asserted their visions with principals and colleagues. Gone was any hint of hesitancy in their gestures as they described leading their classes. They make the curricula work for their students and forge lasting connections with them. Current students took notes as alums shared wisdom on topics ranging from troubled students to the latest technology for student assessment. Several student teachers later reported success with tips gleaned from the amazing array of strategies these young teachers have collected.
Teachers didn’t sugar coat the struggles they have with establishing authority, lack of support, students with challenges beyond their scope, or mandates that don’t enhance their abilities to teach. They all agreed that it’s easy to complain about things that aren’t as they should be. Yet they talked at length about how to be the solution you want to see. One teacher offered to teach a class she thought her students needed, another suggested a discipline system adopted school-wide.
As the teachers lit up about the joys and rewards of their jobs I remember why I like this seminar class the best: the future of education is in good hands.
Congratulations to Chicago Center co-operating teachers Monique Blakes, a first grade teacher at Oscar DePriest Elementary School; and Elizabeth Luna, a kindergarten teacher at Murray Language Academy. These teachers have been named Golden Apple Excellence in Teaching Award recipients for the 2011-2012 school year. The three CPS educators are among 10 recipients of the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching and were selected from a pool of 560 nominees from throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.
The recipients of the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching receive a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University and a $3,000 cash award. Golden Apple teachers also become Fellows of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, which develops and supports programs for teachers to make them more effective in the classroom.
Monique Blakes started crying as Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped into her first grade classroom Thursday morning.
He was followed by some of her colleagues and family, including her sister, aunt and three nieces who drove up from St. Petersburg, Fla.
“I’m so honored,” she said. “I work really hard and my students, all of this is for them.”
Blakes has taught at Depriest Elementary in the Austin neighborhood for seven years. Before that, she went through the Academy of Urban School Leadership’s one-year teacher training program.
“You have the best teacher,” Emanuel told Blakes’ students. “She’s been recognized as number one.”
And her students agreed.
“She’s nice, funny and sweet, and she always takes care of us,” one girl said. “And she helps us learn stuff.”
Here at Chicago Center, students get firsthand experience in issues of social justice and community engagement every day. Spring ’12 Social Work Practicum student Siri Lokensgard wrote about an unforgettable experience during her Social Work placement.
“Throughout the entire day, I was at Legal Assistance Foundation in the South Loop helping them with a Children Across Borders Event, in which lawyers, judges, social services providers, and attorney generals from around the world come to the United States under the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Visitors from Brazil, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Uruguay, Netherlands, and Cambodia (to name only a few) were present to discuss issues regarding children, such as poverty, abduction, foster care, trafficking, and immigration. All of these individuals were coming together to provide more insight into these issues internationally and offer the United States a better understanding and perspective of these problems at large. This was probably one of the coolest and most interesting things that I have ever been a part of. It was very neat to see this unification of influential leaders from around the world come together to address and fight against these social injustices.
In the afternoon, I attended the meeting, interacted and talked with these leaders about social justice issues. I felt so fortunate being able to discuss issues that I have been researching, getting a better understanding of international efforts and cultural practices. I think it helped me become a lot more competent not only culturally but also academically. It definitely made me reflect on and critique the way our systems work in the United States. For example, in many of the countries being represented, they do not believe in nursing homes, viewing them as shameful and disrespectful to the elderly. In addition with all of this, we broke up into smaller groups to discuss specific topics, such as community engagement, trafficking, social work, and immigration issues. I had the honor of actually leading one of these discussions. I couldn’t believe that, as only an undergraduate student, I would get to lead a group of influential leaders from around the world on issues that I am passionate about. In this discussion, we talked about social work efforts, theories/models, challenges systemically and institutionally, and creative strategies. In this discussion, I learned a lot more about foster care efforts in other countries.
Finally, we ended the event by having a time for networking. I had been itching to talk with this man from Cambodia on the issue of sex trafficking, since that is a passion of mine and a field of practice for him, as I learned during introductions. Through this connection, I was able to see possible work in Cambodia some day for myself. This entire day just empowered me, giving me new energy to take on social justice issues around the world, teaming up with others to truly make a difference.”