After a year of virtual learning in the Oberlin City Schools, The Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research Education Program is sponsoring an engaging, in-person summer education program, led by America Reads and America Counts tutors who are on campus for Oberlin’s summer semester.
Normally, the Bonner Center hosts the Ninde Scholars summer program for students in grades 7-12. With the three-semester plan, however, a number of America Reads and America Counts tutors were newly available on campus. As such, the Bonner Center partnered with the Playground Experience Program run by the city of Oberlin and the Oberlin Public Library to host STEAM, literacy, and even origami-related classes for local residents in grades K-5. The Bonner Center sought to build tutors' portfolios of creative tutoring practices while engaging children in fun and meaningful summer learning. This model of engaged learning was seen as particularly important this summer in the wake of COVID and a year in which children have been attending school online.
For Susan Pavlus, the director of the Bonner Center education outreach programs and assistant director of the Bonner Center, it was pertinent to address the potential learning loss that comes with the summer months, as well as have screen-free learning after so many Zoom classes.
“[We were] just thinking about the greatest needs in terms of the community, in terms of literacy, and in terms of mathematics learning, and then gearing some of the activities towards that direction,” Pavlus explains. “Our goal is to be hands-on, no worksheets or book work, just really interactive. We wanted absolutely no computer interaction at all for the kids.”
Classes are held from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Playground Experience Program at Langston Middle School and Wednesdays at the public library. Among the activities are foam rocket launches and planting seedlings. Pavlus and the student tutors built off of some lessons from the after school tutoring program at the Boys and Girls Club with Francesca Barbee, the America Reads coordinator, but otherwise worked from scratch.
On each day of learning there is also an origami station set up. Lessons in origami are courtesy of James Peake ’06, the founder of Foldspace Origami Studio in Oberlin and a freelance tutor.
Tania Boster, assistant professor of history and the executive director of the Bonner Center, is also Peake’s longtime colleague and introduced him to Pavlus when putting together the summer program. Together, they came up with ways to integrate origami into the program, and James trained six student tutors to help him teach the children.
An environmental studies and studio art major, Peake was drawn to origami while a student at Oberlin after discovering a documentary called Between the Folds directed by Vanessa Gould. After he graduated, he combined his interest in origami with his professional goals in education as the education director with the Firelands Association for the Visual Arts for 11 years, where he started the ongoing “FAVA Folding Festival.”
Today, Peake designs and teaches origami classes that integrate academic subjects in engaging, hands-on ways with origami. His core setlist is a series of models that are easy to learn but fun: the sitting fox, the sailboat, the swan, the box, and the jumping frog. Above all, these lessons and others align nicely with the rest of the program. They bridge the gaps between art and STEM subjects and allow reluctant students to approach learning in new ways.
“That’s always been my philosophy: if I’m going to teach origami with math, I’m going to teach it in a way that anybody can do,” Peake says.
Within each one, Peake can teach mathematical concepts in new, creative ways: The fox is about polygons and right isosceles triangles, the sailboat is about parallel and perpendicular lines, and the box teaches fractions, for example. Peake has now integrated these models into the summer program for children.
“Developing this curriculum has really forced me to refine the ideas from this model,” Peake says. “The difference now is that I’m actually putting it on paper. Now we’re all formalizing. I want this to be replicable because this is very much a pilot program.”
Pavlus says that in-person learning has so far been a rewarding and enjoyable experience, while also ensuring that everyone is masked and social distancing.
“I was excited to get back in the community and see kids,” Pavlus says. “You get a different experience working with them in-person than you do online. It just feels more natural working with them in-person. You get their genuine reactions and excitement to things when they’re in person. Getting an opportunity to work with the tutors again has been super exciting. The tutors themselves, working with the children, were very excited. It feels a lot more in the moment. You can really just engage naturally with them.”
Pavlus also notes that the America Reads and America Counts tutors are learning more about the work that goes into teaching, because they have to design lesson plans themselves.
“They've learned how much preparation actually goes into a lesson and how much time teachers took prior to working with children. But really, [they have to] think about their materials and quantities and how they can make the most of their time working with children by preparing their materials ahead of time.”
Pavlus says she could already envision reusing the lesson plans that the tutors designed for the regular academic year.
Peake has called the experience “amazing” and that it truly brings his work full circle—from work-study to his professional career.
“This is sort of a dream I had. I’ve been wanting to do something like this ever since I was a student and now it’s come full circle, being able to apply my skills and expertise and contribute to the Bonner Center, which I’ve worked with all these years,” Peake says. “I was a work-study student as well so it’s totally come full circle. I would love to do this again, especially if I could do it in-person.
“This program is not possible without so many people and support from the College, particularly Tania Boster, who really encouraged us to do this work this summer. The Oberlin College students who are doing the work; It's been so exciting and so much fun to work with.”
Pavlus would also like to thank Francesca Barbee, America Reads coordinator; Brittany Gordon, College Access coordinator; Becky Crawford, Bonner Center administrative assistant; Amanda Gutman, Oberlin Public Library children’s librarian; Ian Yarber, city of Oberlin recreation superintendent; and James Peake.
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