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Psychology students participate in service-learning mentoring program

Seminole State College of Florida students are making a difference for elementary school children through a service-learning project taking place primarily at Pine Crest Elementary School.

During the Spring Term, about 70 Seminole State psychology students logged about 600 hours of service assisting classes at Pine Crest. The program is part of Schools and Communities: Together for Tomorrow, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships and the Corporation for National and Community Service. The program seeks to support low-performing schools through volunteerism.

In Central Florida, the program is coordinated by Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) through the Corporation for National and Community Service’s AmeriCorp program, in collaboration with the Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW).

Since the College’s partnership with Together for Tomorrow began in 2012, more than 160 Seminole State students have logged more than 1,600 hours as mentors, tutors and classroom assistants at Pine Crest. Psychology Professors Doreen Collins-McHugh and John Cardenas provide the program with many of its mentors via class requirements or extra credit opportunities.

“Service learning has dramatically improved the quality of my course curriculum and has given the Together for Tomorrow program and schools more volunteers,” Collins-McHugh says.

Pine Crest students benefit greatly from the school’s partnership with Seminole State, she says.

Volunteers, coordinators and professors pose together at an end-of-the-term event celebrating their service to elementary school students in the community.

Moreover, Seminole State students often find the work emotionally fulfilling. More than just a volunteer opportunity, the Together for Tomorrow program is a unique and rewarding chance to become a positive influence in a child’s life, according to the mentors.

“I view service learning as a transformational learning opportunity for students,” Collins-McHugh says. “Following a model of experiential learning, students get real-life application of the concepts and theories they are learning in the course.”

Student volunteers typically spend eight hours per week helping in classrooms each semester. Some volunteers find the experience so rewarding that they continue to work with students on their own time.

“I worked with a student in kindergarten who had trouble speaking and wouldn’t even try to talk,” says nursing student Nicole Shea, 19, of Longwood. “I worked with the student for two semesters, mainly visiting during lunchtime and recess – we would play games, hang out and have conversations.”

The student had to pass a verbal test to be promoted to the first grade, and Shea was able to help her build the confidence she needed to pass.

“She’s still pretty shy, but she has opened up a lot, and it’s great to be a part of that,” Shea says.

Professor Cardenas says service learning is a great growth experience for his students.

“It opens up an empathic part of the mind and helps to change their point of view,” Cardenas says. “Working with underprivileged kids helps them get a new perspective on how good their lives are.”

Collins-McHugh says she is looking to expand service-learning opportunities at the College this fall and has reached out to faculty to make service learning part of their curricula.

Seminole State’s Center for Global Engagement promotes service learning by encouraging students and faculty to engage in projects that affect positive change in the community. To learn more about developing or participating in a service-learning project at Seminole State, email Kevin Konecny or call 407.708.2907.

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