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Grant-funded RCAH class places focus on helping local education

April 27, 2011

Erika Vivyan spent this past spring semester in what she described as a challenging classroom of high school freshmen — something most students her age don’t get the chance to experience.

Vivyan, a Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, or RCAH, sophomore who aspires to work in education, took one of the four classes in the Pay It Forward program within the college, which centers around giving back to the Lansing area.

Vivyan spent the semester helping a ninth-grade English class at East Lansing High School, 509 Burcham Drive.

“I was nervous about working with students who may not be excited about what we were doing,” she said. “It was cool to see what I can do in a classroom and really motivate students.”

The Pay It Forward program took its $18,000 grant from Michigan Campus Compact, or MCC, an organization devoted to supporting higher education, and divided it among the four classes this semester.

“It’s a very successful grant program for us,” said Amber Toth, a consultant for grant programs at MCC. “It really teaches them about philanthropy.”

Vivyan spent the semester helping the two sections of the class facilitate difficult conversations about cultural and equality issues as well as helping them to write a grant proposal to receive funding for a diversity conference.

“It was a great experience — it helped me see I can be a part of a community I only live in part time,” she said. “It opened another avenue to what I can do in education, and learning the grant writing process was really helpful.”

Donna Kaplowitz, the professor who taught the RCAH course, said her students were required to spend three hours a week in their classrooms to learn about funding public education as well as listening to guest speakers who have various roles in the public education system and a final project with their classroom.

“All of them have done amazing projects,” she said. “Part of the class design was to have them learn about philanthropy. They had to look for projects that needed funding and assist their class in writing a grant proposal.”

Emily Nott, an RCAH and art education junior, was placed in a fifth-grade classroom at Whitehills Elementary School in East Lansing. Nott said she wrote music and created illustrations for stories students had written and placed their voices over to create a slideshow.

“They have exceeded their resources in technology,” she said. “So they wrote a grant proposal to receive some funding for some more access to technology.”

The class Nott worked in and other nonprofits in the community will be honored at an awards ceremony next Wednesday, she said.

For Nott, the class was a life-changing experience, and since starting the class, she has switched her major from studio art to art education.

“This is the most inspiring and effective class I have ever taken at MSU,” she said. “I came from a family of teachers and I saw how hard it is for them in this state, they work so hard and get little thanks. I always swore I would never become a teacher.”

Kaplowitz said she was pleased with her students’ dedication during the semester.

“It was profoundly life changing to work face to face with the youth in this community,” she said.

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