When Shaz first described the idea for Classroom Connect to me back in January, I was so excited that I almost jumped out of my chair. What graduate student wouldn’t love a program that encourages our local schools to invite undergraduates, graduates, post-docs, and faculty into their classrooms to talk about their fields of expertise? (If you ask me to talk about the Puritan theology in Colonial America, I will regale you with tidbits and tales for days – surprisingly, teachers never made a request for this riveting field of study). I was thrilled to be part of providing a new resource to our teachers that would also help University students better engage with their community.
So we got to work. Shaz and I rustled up some IT guys to help build the website where all the connections would take place (thanks, Sandbox!). We also spent a lot of time spit-balling ideas; some were really good, some not so much. We were nervous when we officially launched in May. Would we actually get students to volunteer to fill teacher requests? Would teachers even want students to come into their classrooms at all? Were we just pie-in-the-sky dreamers who lived in a cold, dark world where no one cared about expert-driven educational experiences? I can’t speak for Shaz, but I was worried. Although, I’m a graduate student, so I’m always at least a little worried.
Then the first request came in. A sixth-grade teacher from Ray Elementary posted a request to have someone come speak to her students about Latin. I saw this first thing in the morning and actually did jump out of my chair that time. Success! Then more requests started coming in. One teacher at Ray wanted three students to come talk about different science topics. Another teacher asked for a student to come speak to all ninety second-graders at her school about bugs.
And then something even crazier happened. Students started accepting those requests. Classroom Connect spread through a combination of word-of-mouth and my (sometimes frantic) emails to student organizations on campus. I had them each come to our office to give them a brief orientation and it could not have been more of a pleasure. I got to meet biochemists, a geophysicist, and an undeclared undergrad with a strong passion for Latin and Ancient Rome. Their enthusiasm was contagious and I was impressed with their creativity and dedication. I was even able to attend a presentation at Ray Elementary. The sixth-graders were highly engaged and our presenter did a wonderful job.
Ultimately, we filled almost all of the requests we received. Although I won’t be here to continue the program in the Fall, I anticipate that it will continue to be a success. Seriously, everyone in the University of Chicago community should check out the site (http://classroomconnect.uchicago.edu). It’s a great opportunity to get involved in our neighborhood and get some exposure to teaching!
And, I have to take a moment to thank our wonderful student volunteers, who prepared outstanding presentations and shared their passion for their subjects in our local classrooms. Tabbetha Bohac, Justin O’Dell, Meghan Vincent, Daniel Schwartz, and Magdalena Naziemiec: you guys totally rock!