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  • Practice-Based Education a Cornerstone of the Wheelock College Experience

    May 04, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    A student gets real world practice on the job.

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    At Wheelock College, all academic programs are focused on social justice and human rights. The college has a policy that calls for each student to have at least one field-based experience throughout his or her academic career.

    “Because Wheelock College is a private college with a public mission to improve the lives of children and families, we can’t enact our mission without sending our students out into the world,” explains Linda Banks-Santilli, interim dean for graduate and professional programs at Wheelock College.

    She points out that this mission requires the application of knowledge, skills, dispositions, and abilities to real-world settings in education, child life, social work, juvenile justice and nonprofit leadership.

    “No one, for example, would want to have a teacher who only read about how to teach, or a social worker who understood her work theoretically, but had never practiced,” she says. “Our faculty values the intersection between theory, research, and practice. Our practice-based education is a cornerstone of the Wheelock experience.”

    Wheelock partners with more than 280 organizations in the greater Boston area through its internships and practice-based models of learning. Its goal, Banks-Santilli says, is to produce citizens of the world, and skilled and knowledgeable professionals who enact Wheelock’s mission.

    “We require our undergraduate students to take our signature human growth and development course,” Banks-Santilli notes. “This course helps students understand cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and socio-cultural development across the lifespan from conception through late adulthood. It requires a field-based experience in which they carry out their academic assignments and conduct child observations.”

    There are four types of field-based experiences at Wheelock College:

    • Internship—Year-long experiences offered locally to students preparing to become teachers.
    • Practicum—Semester-long experience usually associated with earning a professional license.
    • Placement—Experience associated with a particular course, such as the human growth and development course.
    • Service learning—Intensive experiences in New Orleans, and foreign countries, including Ghana, Benin, Northern Ireland, Barbados, Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Belize.

    Wheelock’s field experience office staff members work alongside social work and child life field education coordinators to arrange internships, practicums, and field-based experiences for students. Their work includes developing new relationships with schools, community-service agencies, hospitals, and medical settings, and nurturing those partnerships over time. They also interview students individually so that they are able to match them with professionals at internship sites.

    The field experience office staff educates and trains staff members at partner sites about any new professional requirements related to licensing or accreditation, and they communicate regularly about the college’s policies and procedures related to internships and practicum. Additionally, the field experience staff works regularly with faculty who help determine quality sites that reflect the philosophy of Wheelock’s academic programs. They also share feedback from site partners about students, and address issues and concerns.

    “We value our relationships with community partners and acknowledge the impact they have on our students and institution through vouchers for a free course, tickets to our award-winning Wheelock Family Theatre, and opportunities to co-teach or guest-speak in related courses,” Banks-Santilli explains.

    In a recent event sponsored by the career services department, community partners volunteered to meet individually with students to provide them with feedback on their resumes and to conduct mock-interviews.

    “Through this work, these internship sites become potential employment sites over time,” Banks-Santilli adds.

    For schools considering a large-scale experiential program, Banks-Santilli also recommends:

    • Developing required coursework—It should prepare students for the communities in which they will be working and aim to decrease a deficit-view of communities that differ from the students’ lived experiences.
    • Having a reason for selecting sites—Develop a conceptual framework that supports and extends your college or university’s academic programs or its mission.
    • Developing on-campus partnerships—For example, link the field experience office with your university’s career services office to increase employment opportunities for your students.
    • Ensuring partnerships are mutually beneficial—Remember that in a partnership both parties contribute and both parties have specific needs. Identify the conditions of the partnership in advance and work to uphold them.
    • Making sure participants understand their responsibilities—Develop contracts for internships that clearly delineate the responsibilities of the students, the on-site mentors, and the supervisors from the college. Add any district requirements and ask all parties to sign.
    • Communicating regularly and effectively with site partners—Use an electronic system that helps you identify exactly where each student is placed during the day in case of emergencies; you should be able to locate every student.
    • Providing training for all program participants—Offer professional development workshops and trainings for students, on-site mentors, and community partners.
    • Soliciting funding—Seek grant funding to help create and sustain strong partnership models
    • Developing standards, and review channels and support—Establish criteria for acceptance to sites and create systems for providing students with feedback from sites. Provide support services to students who do not get initially accepted.
    • Doing your own assessments—Assess the student, the on-site mentor, the site, and the college supervisor of the student after each experience to determine its effectiveness and to address any concerns.
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