Kyla Norwood is familiar with the term 'namaste'—the way of greeting another in the Indian Hindu culture. The 11-year-old also can you tell you a thing or two about saris, a drape commonly worn by women of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
On this day, Norwood is among some 50 elementary students learning about the Indian culture in the heart of Columbus on the historical campus of Mississippi University for Women.
Norwood is a student in the Kids 'N College program, a partnership formed between The W's College of Education & Human Sciences and Sale International Studies Magnet Elementary School in the fall of 2009.
She and her classmate, 11-year-old Hezam Nagi, are veterans of the program, first entering it as kindergartners. The fifth-graders have had an opportunity to visit different parts of the world and experience college by traveling just a few blocks away from home.
"I like how we are able to compare and contrast different cultures," Norwood said, referring to her lesson about the Indian culture. "When we (in America) think about karma, we think in terms of bad luck. When they think of karma, it could mean you coming back in another life as an ant or a king."
In addition to learning about other cultures, the students are also being exposed to the university experience with The W being the first time for some of them to ever step onto a college campus.
Nagi has been able to dine in the university's cafeteria and create a mock class schedule and then walk from building to building to see what it would be like as a college student.
"A lot of these children don't have a concept of college.
Early on, they learn that college is doable as part of this program."
~ Dr. Monica Riley, Chair of the Department of Education
He was most intrigued with the size of the campus that is situated on about 114 acres. "I didn't expect it to be this big," Nagi said. "I did not know you could live on campus."
Kay Ellis, media specialist and International Baccalaureate coordinator at Sale, said these are the hands-on activities that cannot be explained to a student.
"So many of them live in Columbus and don't understand what The W is. It gives them the motivation they need," Ellis said, noting that some of the students will be first-generation college students. "They get to see a dorm room. It's a real hard concept to explain to an elementary student."
In the Beginning
Former Sale Principal Nancy Bragg and Ellis had ideas about what learning should involve for the elementary students under their leadership.
The school was notified about its MDE "Academic Watch" Accountability status for the 2008-2009 academic year. At the same time, administrators and faculty accepted the challenge from then superintendent Del Phillips that it was declared an international studies magnet school, moving toward approval by the International Baccalaureate World Organization and it had elected to participate in an extended school year calendar.
As part of the extended school year, they wanted to use "Success Weeks" or weeks between academic sessions for both remediation and enrichment. A greater idea influencing their thoughts and decisions was that the students (88 percent of whom were eligible for free or reduced lunch) in their Title I school needed to experience learning outside their own school walls. Their vision--to take their students to experience the greater world. Ideas began to form and they reached out to Dr. Sue Jolly-Smith, education department chair at The W at the time.
"Could they bring their students to the MUW campus for these Success Days and could MUW bring education majors to the Sale campus to reach out to work on remediation for those students who needed increased support?" were questions that were asked, explained Dr. Jolly-Smith.
As long as any of them could remember, the university and the Columbus schools had partnered in the preparation of future teachers, but this would involve something new. From that initial meeting in July 2009, the vision grew into reality when the first Sale Kids 'N College group of 85 students came to The W the fall of 2009.
Just two years ago the program was recognized by the Mississippi Association of Partners with the Governor's University Partnership Award. The Kids 'N College program is now under the direction of Dr. Monica Riley, education department chair.
Over the course of the program, there have been some minor tweaks. The program has gone from three weeks to two weeks, which are focused on academics, according to Riley. She coordinates the campus activities, which have ranged from cooking in the culinary school to interviewing the president.
"MUW candidates plan lessons based on common core state standards that enhance required learning for the K12 schools," she said. "Activities are hands-on and activity based. Students still have opportunity to learn about campus through a campus tour."
Participants have toured the campus library, which is larger than their school; boarded a boat to learn about archaeology and wildlife; and used a microscope to examine water samples pulled from the river.
Riley recalls one of the boys saying, "I never knew what I wanted to be but now I know I want to go to college here."
"It makes all of the planning worth it," she added. "A lot of these children don't have a concept of college. Early on, they learn that college is doable as part of this program."
There's no question that all involved with the partnership believe it is a win-win situation. Sale students feel a sense of ownership when they pass by The W's Clock Tower, and the university teacher candidates bond with the elementary students and gain invaluable experiences that could only be learned in the classroom.
MUW students in their Senior Block plan lessons for the elementary school students. Some of the ED 302, The Art and Science of Teaching, students are placed at Sale Elementary with the intent of their working with the elementary students who do not get to come to campus," Riley explained. An average of 20 students per semester from ED 302 have a field experience at Sale.
The students gain by having to plan and implement lessons with elementary school children for a sustained period of time before moving into teacher internship. They have to adjust lessons as needed as they implement," Riley said. "They learn the importance of flexibility in teaching as schedules change…buses are early or late, etc. It is a 'real world' experience that allows them to practice what they have been learning in class and prepares them for Teacher Internship when they will be expected to teach for the entire day."
Jolly-Smith said, "One of the most significant results has been something not fully anticipated nor easily quantified: the feeling of ownership and pride that both groups feel for the other entity. This ownership makes this a true partnership and one worthy of recognition."
MUW alumna Kimberly Long, principal at Sale, said their Success Weeks involve a lot of teamwork and cooperation between the two entities.
"The Kids 'N College program ties into what we are doing as an IB school and it falls in line what we are teaching daily," she said. "This is definitely a partnership we want to continue in the future.
"This is a rich environment that we are exposing them to—being able to experience college and campus life," she added. Ellis said another important lesson the Sale students learn is giving back.
"The children find wonderful ways to give to say thank you," she said. "It's about giving back to the world regardless of what you have. Giving back is a real important piece of what they have learned."