Hastings College Today – Preparing for challenges

Meetings the needs of today_s K-12 students requires a broader vision. Ten to 20 percent of the nation_s young people are not succeeding in the classroom for a variety of reasons _ drugs, gangs, poor home life, crime, boredom or lack of motivation.

Demographics are changing the face of education. Even so, the minority population in Nebraska is less than half of the national average. The majority of Hastings College teacher education students grew up in an all-white, middle class community. Few will find classrooms similar to those in which they were educated.

How does a small college in a small community in Middle America prepare these future teachers to meet the many challenges they will be facing?

Following are two programs that provide Hastings College teacher education students with hands-on experiences in educational environments very different from their own.

Eagle Rock School-an alternative residential school

Located near Estes Park, Colo., in the shadow of the majestic Rocky Mountains, innovative Eagle Rock School has an enrollment of less than 100 and is for students who have not succeeded in previous learning situations. The goal is to turn these students_ lives around with the hope they will graduate and be active participants in society.

This experimental program focuses on more than academics, said Dr. Will Locke, who integrates a three-day trip to Eagle Rock into his senior seminar curriculum. He takes 20-40 students to Eagle Rock during each fall and spring semester to observe and participate. Hastings is the only undergraduate college that takes its students to Eagle Rock on a regular basis.

_Classes are innovative and creative.No grades are given, but the curriculum meets the standards set by the state of Colorado,_ Locke said.

A strong component built into the program is an emphasis on community service. Each student puts more than 500 hours into community service each year completing such projects as building playground equipment and wheelchair ramps at public buildings and putting up sheet rock in a health clinic.

Personal growth and community also are emphasized. Students are expected to take responsibility for others and for themselves. Each morning following exercise and breakfast, the entire campus meets for a gathering in an intimate area known as the hearth. Students sit close to each other on the floor and share thoughts and feelings.

_It_s a very important part of the day,_ Locke said. _It brings the students together and creates a bond that leads to responsibility for self and others._

Fifty percent of the students are from Colorado with the remaining from rural and urban America. The student body represents white, black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American.

Rules are few.

_Students are encouraged to make healthy life choices. The school has five non-negotiable rules _ no tobacco, alcohol, drugs, violence or sexual intimacy. Breaking even one of these rules can lead to expulsion,_ Locke said.

_I was skeptical when I heard they have only five rules,_ said Travis Glatthar of Lakewood, Colo., who visited Eagle Rock last spring. _But then I could see that their rules keep the students from hurting each other or themselves. These rules teach them to be responsible, to think and ask questions. To me that_s more important than raw knowledge._

Glatthar, a senior completing his student teaching in high school math this spring in Denver, has applied for an internship at Eagle Rock.

_I wouldn_t mind teaching at Eagle Rock School, but what I really want to do is be an intern there and bring their philosophy into my own classroom,_ he said.

Karmen Grant of Lexington, Neb., a student teacher in physical education this semester in the Hastings Public Schools, went to Eagle Rock with mixed feelings.

_What an inspiring and amazing school. Before going to Eagle Rock, I had mixed feelings as to what I was going to see. I can definitely say that after spending a few days on their campus, it was truly an eye opening experience. We saw kids who struggled severely in a traditional school and society, entered Eagle Rock, and were truly changed. These students take extreme pride in their school, classmates and teachers. The majority of these students are thrilled to be where they are and love the people around them. They fully understand the expectations and consequences that are enforced within the school. They seem to feel a true sense of acceptance and love that they may have never had in the past. Students are also very open to tell their story and express how much they love Eagle Rock._

While she doesn_t expect to teach in an Eagle Rock-type environment, what Grant experienced will affect her teaching.

_Eagle Rock proved to me that there is a place for every student,_ Grant said. _It may not always be in the traditional school setting, but a place like Eagle Rock gives students a second chance to succeed. I believe that we cannot ignore students who seem to lack motivation or skills in school and must realize that there are places for them even if it is not in my class._


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