Susan Perry, an assistant professor of education at Hendrix, has found a way to give Hendrix students real-life teaching experience that is making a difference in the lives of children in Conway.
Last year, Perry created the Hendrix Early Literacy Program (HELP) as a way to provide her students with experience in early childhood education, while at the same time giving elementary students some much-needed extra classroom time. Funded by the Hendrix- Murphy Foundation and the Hendrix Odyssey Program, HELP is a model of experiential learning. The HELP program is a good fit for Hendrix’s curricular Odyssey Program designed to give students practical yet purposeful experience that will help shape their future after college.
Perry’s students are responsible for teaching three lessons a week to small groups of children at Sallie Cone Elementary School in Conway.
“College students should be active in what they’re learning,” Perry said. “They should be working with children.”
Perry said her college students have been overwhelmingly positive about the teaching experience they are receiving. Though most of them already have demanding work loads, the majority of her education majors voted to add an all-teaching class to next year’s schedule.
“This is interesting because the students themselves are the ones requesting more work,” Perry said.
The generous grants Perry received from the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation and the Odyssey Office, specifically with the help of Hendrix Associate Provost David Sutherland, have been used to assemble the supplies needed to start the HELP program.
Perry purchased Guided Reading books, a type of book that classifies books based on their reading level. This system allows teachers to assess where their students are reading and to help them reach the next level. Studies show that Guided Reading really works, but the books are expensive, she said.
HELP is not only beneficial for elementary school students; it has also helped college students. One of Perry’s students, Hendrix senior Ashleigh McGee of Gulf Shores, Ala., spent last summer helping Perry analyze the hundreds of books that needed to be catalogued in order to start HELP. Perry said McGee now has the skills to easily assess a child’s reading level and find the book appropriate to that level. Because of her experiences in the program, McGee has already been offered a teaching position in Little Rock after she graduates.
The only stumbling block to the success of HELP is lack of funding, according to Perry, who said most of the money she received has gone directly to purchasing books.
“People don’t realize how expensive books are, but once we have them we can use them forever,” she said.
Sallie Cone has already requested that Hendrix offer another program at the school, expanding from K-1 to K-4. Perry is hoping to get her students into the elementary schools as much as possible, so the expanded program is mutually beneficial.
“I can honestly say I have never been this busy,” Perry said, “but I believe that we really need to hit the early childhood population because they are so young and ready to soak up the information.”
Photo by Anthony Reyes, courtesy of Log Cabin Democrat