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Feb. 3, 2016
by Amy Houts
from Children’s Ministry magazine, January/February 2016. © 2016 Group Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. No unauthorized use or duplication permitted.
When Carma Kinman began her position as director of children’s ministry in 2014 at the First United Methodist Church in Maryville, getting people to volunteer was her biggest challenge. She needed volunteers not only for Sunday school classes, but also for their Wednesday night children's program, C.O.O.L. (Children of Our Lord) Kids.
“I had this great idea,” said Kinman, who also works as the executive secretary in Northwest Missouri State University’s Office of University Advancement. “But I didn't know if it would work.”
Kinman explained that she'd thought of the idea because of her daughter Whitney, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Northwest in elementary education in 2011. One of the requirements of her degree was working a number of hours with children. This requirement had to be fulfilled early in her degree program, years before her final trimester as a student teacher. Kinman wondered if current education majors would be able to fulfill the requirement by volunteering at the church’s children’s program.
Kinman discussed her idea with assistant professor Dr. Pradnya Patet, coordinator of the early childhood program at Northwest and also a member of the First United Methodist Church. Not only did Patet agree that Kinman had a great idea, but she also incorporated it into the curriculum. After the program was set up, something amazing happened: Kinman had Wednesday evening volunteer needs taken care of. C.O.O.L. Kids had more than enough volunteers – guaranteed.
Currently, Northwest students plan and carry out a one-hour program for two different classes and grade levels every week. These students are dependable. They show up because it’s a class requirement. Plus their professor attends and observes.
“It’s worked out so well,” Kinman said. “It’s wonderful for the college students and for us.”
How did this unique program get off the ground? What has worked well, and what challenges have they faced?
|Northwest student Ashlyn Mansil helps children mix up dog treats for the local animal shelter during the C.O.O.L. Kids at the First United Methodist Church in Maryville. (Photo by Amy Houts)|
The First United Methodist Church partners with Northwest in a variety of ways, so Pastor Scott Moon welcomed the idea.
“From the outset, there was mutual agreement that, in contrast to our Sunday morning ministries, C.O.O.L. Kids would utilize the best in educational theory to enhance the cognitive and moral development of children in ways suitable to them and in their relationships with others,” Moon said.
He said the goal of the program is for college students to teach concepts on Wednesdays that complement what kids are learning on Sunday mornings.
“Rather than engage in intentional faith education of a religious nature on Wednesday evenings,” Moon said, “we help build them confidence – aka faith – elicit their consideration of others – aka love and respect – and equip them with the skills and character required to grow into the best people they can be.”
He added, “The church’s vision statement is ‘Connecting people at life’s crossroads with God’s love and grace.’ From the congregation’s perspective, the C.O.O.L. Kids partnership helps young children at a crossroads in their development do just that. The church is called to find ways to partner with all people, and the institutions they’re part of, in order to transform the world. When opportunities present themselves, such as helping children develop into healthy and whole people, we name it ‘holy.’”
The program, which started in the fall of 2014, didn't take long to get going. No church board action was required because it could be defined as what Moon described as “a ministry as it is fully in line with United Methodist belief, practice and tradition.”
“Since this was a course-embedded fieldwork piece,” Patet said, “it was basically an instructor and program coordinator decision.”
The Northwest students start the program by employing the “seven conscious discipline skills” for themselves as well as teaching them to children. The seven skills are: composure, encouragement, positive intent, empathy, choices, assertiveness and consequences.
“These matched well with common principles of spirituality, and so we saw common ground in both institutions’ goals for the children,” Patet said. “Plus, our students learned about program management by actually managing a program. Students learn about marketing, registration, family communication and building program content, too.”
Additionally, children in the program get to help choose content and plan direction. For example, they sought help from church members to raise money and make winter care packages for police officers, firefighters, and nursing homes.
|Northwest students Elizabeth Pinkman (left) and Sara Worsfold (right) read to the children in the third and fourth grade classes at C.O.O.L. Kids. (Photo by Amy Houts)|
C.O.OL. Kids is segmented into grade levels. Grades 1 and 2 meet in one room, and grades 3 and 4 meet in a separate room. For the early elementary grades, Northwest students who are enrolled in a course titled, “Early Childhood Program Management” take the early elementary grades. Students in the “Social Studies in the Elementary School” class take the older elementary grades. Every week, the three-credit hour college courses meet on the Northwest campus for two hours and for one hour at First United Methodist Church in Maryville, a rural town with a population of 12,000. Just over a half-mile from campus, the church is easily accessible to Northwest students by car, bike or on foot.
Because college students at this state university are unable to teach religious subjects, they lead students in social justice service projects. A member of the church leads the first 15 minutes of the hour with songs or other faith-based activities. This works well for the university students, too, because they use the time to do final preparation and set up.
At 6:10 one evening, Patet observes as four Northwest students, all junior education majors, prepare the room in the education wing on the third floor of the brick church. Two college students will observe and two will teach. Next week, they'll switch. When the children enter the room, there's lots of noise and excitement. Northwest student Brandi Weymuth – or Miss Brandi, as the children call her – takes the lead this evening. She introduces the topic and explains the evening's activity.
“Remember last week we went to the Humane Society?” Miss Brandi asks. “We learned how we can help by playing with the animals. Today we’re going to make homemade dog treats to help make the dogs happy. We will bring them to the Humane Society. What else can you donate?” She waits a few seconds and then repeats the children’s answers. “Laundry soap, give them walks, towels.”
Miss Brandi writes the dog-treat recipe on a big poster and then reads the ingredients. Then she has the kids form groups of three. Every group gets its own bowl and ingredients. Kids get to crack the eggs. Together, they refer to the recipe several times. Children take turns adding ingredients and stirring. The college students have paper towels and water at the ready for easy cleanup.
“We’ll use dog-bone cookie cutters,” Miss Brandi says, showing them to the children.
“If each of us made one cookie, how many cookies would we make?” Patet asks. The kids count and answer all at once. "Nine!”
When asked what she thinks about the program, Northwest student Ashlyn Mansil admits she had reservations at first. “I was actually really nervous because I'd never come into a program like this and done my own lesson.”
Another Northwest student, Rachel Denne, talks about the advantages of being off campus, away from the Horace Mann Laboratory School, which houses preschool through sixth grade. “It gets us out of the Northwest setting. The Horace Mann students are used to practicum teachers.” While the children at church weren’t used to having college students teach, the benefits to both groups have been many.
“I can’t think of a more high-impact way for the students to learn; it’s real learning and real impact,” said Dr. Merlene Gilb, assistant professor of professional education at Northwest and new to the church partnership in the fall of 2015. “But most important of all, the children participating in C.O.O.L. Kids truly enjoy the program. The participation, energy and excitement of the children says it all.”
The third- and fourth-grade shared room is much quieter than the younger class with fewer kids than grades 1 and 2. Three female college students lead four girls in grades three and four. Northwest Assistant Professor of Professional Education Dr. Victoria Seeger observes this group. The kids here have generated the plan for what they want to do. I ask the young girls if it’s fun to have college students as teachers.
Carolyn, one of the girls in the group, immediately says, “Of course it is!”
Kya, another child, says she likes the variety and ability to do more activities than before.
“When the college students didn’t come, we’d just do a craft,” said Kya.
Carolyn describes the activities they do during the hour. “We read a story. We watch a short clip about why you shouldn't be mean. Then we sort clothes.”
This week, the girls sort clothes to donate to people in need. To sort the clothes efficiently, the girls form two groups. The two girls separating the clothes are the “pickers.” The two writing down what they’ve collected are the “talliers.” Marking a chart, the girls count the coats, tops, bottoms, or accessories and place them in piles of children’s, men’s, or women’s clothing.
Seeger explains, “The inventorying of the clothing is actually not necessary, but I think it gives children ownership of the project and helps them realize that they have the power to change the world.”
Seeger will transport the clothes (350 pieces) and donate them to The Ministry Center in Maryville, an organization that seeks to provide for the spiritual health and physical well-being of the residents who are in need of clothing and care.
As with any innovative program, some challenges and questions have arisen that the two institutions have had to navigate.
The Question of Faith. When asked about whether the college students’ faith – or lack thereof – is a problem, Patet said no. “Since we’ve negotiated that part with stated and agreed-upon expectations (their faith) is really not an issue,” she said. The programming that the students are responsible for builds upon the faith education kids receive on Sundays by putting that faith into motion.
And participating college students come from various faith backgrounds. Their commitment is attending on Wednesday evening – not Sunday morning – and providing acceptable programming, says Patet. “Some students come to the Sunday service, but our goal is to work in partnership for the success and benefit of the children. We focus on universal, ethical values rather than religious beliefs. We embrace spirituality rather than religious doctrine. Both benefit the children, and the institutions work in one physical space (the church).”
Staffing Shifts. Changes in church leadership and University faculty are inevitable and have had the potential to lead to uneven programming and confused program direction. However, the program is thriving with the church’s current children’s ministry director, Heidi Komorech.
Gilb now teaches the course that Patet taught last year. Patet believes bringing on a new college professor has had a positive effect on the program. Gilb said it wasn't difficult coming into the program in the fall of 2015 because she was well prepared by her predecessor. All these changes had the potential to disrupt the burgeoning program, but thanks to dedicated effort from all involved, instead the changes have been relatively smooth.
“I’ve had tremendous support. Dr. Patet reviewed the course content and requirements with me as well as past projects,” Gilb said. “The mission of the Department of Professional Education at Northwest is ‘to prepare caring teachers who possess the highest level of professional knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to help all students learn in a diverse and ever-changing world.’ This opportunity supports our mission and is an important part of the journey of learning for the students.”
Not only has First United Methodist Church been successful in creating a partnership with this University program, but the kids have also had the incredible benefit of working with college students who serve as mentors and teachers. For both institutions, this partnership has been a win-win.
“It’s really a matter of seeking partnerships and finding common ground,” Patet says. “I believe the foundation is in the relationship you develop and a sincere commitment from both institutions to pursue common goals and negotiate differences by building on those common goals.”
Amy Houts is a freelance writer living in Maryville and a 1991 alumna of Northwest.
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