Williams students teach youngsters

Williams College students have been sharing the knowledge of their academic careers with Williamstown elementary school students for the past three years. The Adventures in Learning program, begun in 1995 by two Williams Alumnae with children in the elementary school, offers a selection of after-school classes which are taught by Williams students, as well as other members of the community.

Ann Hodgeland ‘77 moved back to Williamstown three years ago and initiated the program. She recalled “at Williams I really liked the Free University concept and thought something like that would apply really well to the elementary school.” Hodgeland approached President of the College Harry C. Payne and administration at the elementary schools with the idea in the spring of ‘94 and the following fall the program began.

She noted “the program gives Williams students the opportunity to teach elementary kids creative classes. Both sides benefit from the program. “

Hodgeland said, “I’ve been thrilled with the variety and number of classes. Its open to the entire community and its been wonderful to see the elementary kids enjoy the classes.”

The courses run for five weeks and will culminate on Mar. 15 with an open house exhibiting the end products of the classes.

This year 41 Williams students as well as several other members of the community volunteered to teach 26 classes. 160 elementary students signed up for the classes, most of which were capped at under 10 students. “The Play’s the Thing,” “Environmental Chemistry,” and “Passport to Adventure — Around the World in a Few Days” are a few of the titles elementary students chose from. The classes are entirely voluntary and elementary students receive no extra credit or additional incentive from them.

Program Director Lisa Hiley said, “It’s a terrific program: the college students are great and the kids love it.” She hopes to increase the number of parents, teachers aides and other community members who teach.

Williams students Torie Gorges ‘00, Debbie Ebert ‘00 and Becky Iwantash ‘00 are teaching a class called “Musical Mania.” Their class has 12 students from third to sixth grade and is staging a musical production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The instructors are focusing on basic acting, singing and dancing skills.

Last year the trio taught a similar class, putting on “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” Explaining her motivation, Ebert said, “I did musicals in high school, really like kids and this program seemed like the perfect combination.”

Iwantash added, “Last year we were really worried about our final performance but it turned out so well and the kids had so much fun we were motivated to do it again.”

Mari-Ann Simons, a third grader and “Musical Mania” student, explained her reasons for taking the class, “I like it because it gives kids a chance to dance and sing. I like art.”

Earth Bennett ’98 and Kristin Frentzel ’98 are teaching a class for students between second and fourth grade entitled “Myths, Legends, Tales and Folklore.” Bennett said, “I’ve never had the chance to teach anything scholastic. I’ve taught swimming lessons at summer camp but wanted to do something more academic.”

“I’ve always loved mythology. When I was in second and third grade, I read books on Norse myths, Greek myths, all sorts of myths,” Bennett said. “I am teaching myths because they give such a good insight on the culture. The stories give you a direct tie to the people.”

In the same class, he bought wax tablets for the students to write on and javelins constructed from wrapping paper tubes to demonstrate that school for young Greeks had both academic and physical aspects.

Bennett noted, “The kids were really into learning about other cultures. Myths give them a good perspective and help explain ‘why’.” Bennett said he is interested in teaching after graduation and noted that teaching this class “really got the creative juices flowing.”

He added, “I really look forward to the class. It’s only an hour a week and it’s not as if I’m teaching them Calculus or anything. I enjoy the creativity. The kids can’t help but learn.”

Leila Zelnick ‘00 and Audrey Chen, ‘00 are teaching a class called “Cool Chemistry in the Kitchen.” Zelnick noted “we decided to teach an adventures in learning class because we like kids and we wanted to share our enthusiasm for learning. So far it’s been really fun, though it has been a lot of work.”

She elaborated, “Science is something in which kids often lose interest , and a fun program like this is a good way to keep perspective on how fun science can be. It has been something of an enlightening experience on the whole teaching process. We have had to sort of learn how to extemporize on things we know nothing about. It has given us a whole new respect for our grade school teachers.”