Why wait until middle school or high school to make clear to young people the connection between education and life after school?
MTSU and the Murfreesboro City Schools say that point cannot be made early enough.
That’s the mission of the Collaborative Learning and Leadership Institute, a partnership between MTSU and Murfreesboro City Schools designed to help young children make a connection between what they are learning in school and what that education will mean to their adult lives.
“By the time children are 8, they already have an idea of what they want to do,” said Dr. Linda Gilbert, Murfreesboro City Schools director and a former MTSU professor.
“By the time they leave us in sixth grade, it may be too late because, in their minds, they already have a concept of hope — or a concept of despair.”
Housed at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary School, the institute promotes interaction between college students and youngsters and helps the kids understand what life can be like when school is over.
Those older students come from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, which houses the “helping” disciplines of criminal justice, health and human performance, human sciences, nursing, psychology and social work.
You can watch a video about Mitchell-Neilson’s partnership with the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences above.
An example of the institute in action is the health literacy project guided by Drs. Catherine Crooks and Stuart Bernstein of the Department of Psychology.
Fueled by an $8,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, Crooks, Bernstein and their students work with youngsters and their parents to help them understand various health issues, such as when to go to the doctor and when to go to the emergency room.
“We have examples of deaths here in Rutherford County because people have either taken medication incorrectly or couldn’t read the labels,” said Bea Perdue, the college’s development director.
The practical applications extend beyond health literacy. The institute also works with the Murfreesboro Housing Authority, Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital’s mobile health centers and the family learning centers in public housing complexes.
Through MTSU’s partnership with Mitchell-Neilson, organizers say that elementary students can find inspiration that can propel them into an academic life they — and maybe even their parents — never expected they could live.
“There are so many kids in the Murfreesboro city schools who don’t even know there’s a college in town,” said Dr. Harold “Terry” Whiteside, dean of the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, “so the idea of going to college is a thought that has never crossed their minds.”
For now, the institute’s brick-and-mortar home is a nondescript outbuilding between two classroom buildings on the Mitchell-Neilson campus. Educators do their planning in one room; students do their learning in the other.
Whiteside and Gilbert’s vision for the institute lies far beyond that building, however. They see potential for future activities that can change a bleak reality for an at-risk population of students in a nation where a child drops out of school every nine to 16 seconds.
MTSU students benefit from interacting with people from different cultures and from seeing the effectiveness of their work and their research.
“I think it’ll change the way they look at their coursework, and I think it’ll change the way we look at what we need to be doing as practitioners,” Gilbert said.
— Gina K. Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)