High school students from across the state traveled to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Friday, May 5, to talk about literature, get a taste of the college experience and make connections with each other.
Throughout the spring semester, students from Menasha, Adams-Friendship and Madison La Follette high schools collaborated with UWSP English 381 students on the Connections Project.
Initiated in spring 2006, the Connections Project provides English education majors an opportunity to practice skills essential to becoming successful teachers.
High school students read and discussed a book throughout the semester, with UWSP English 381 students acting as teachers and facilitators.
The project gives these future teachers the opportunity to interact with a variety of students, evaluate work, give feedback and create lesson plans.
Participants from UWSP visited the high schools throughout the semester and spent a day with students at each school.
To complete the project, options were provided for the high school students to create and present on their visit to UWSP.
Erica Ringelspaugh, assistant professor of English and UWSP alumna, is teaching English 381 for the first time this semester. However, Ringelspaugh has experience with the project as a teacher at Adams-Friendship high school.
Ringelspaugh was one of the first cooperating high school teachers involved with the Connections Project in 2006; it was her second year of teaching.
Ringelspaugh explained the project provided UWSP students a chance to apply lessons learned during the semester.
The project allows 381 students to slow down the teaching process and take teaching a lesson one step at a time.
“Students get to look at every step and see what is best practice. That forces students to make some of those skills habits that they can build on later,” Ringelspaugh said.
Morgan Brinkman, English 381 student, agreed with Ringelspaugh.
“This experience has helped me step into that teacher role pretty authentically,” Brinkman said. “I feel like I can stand in front of a group of students and say ‘My name is Ms. Brinkman’ and not falter.”
Rachel France, another English education major, felt the project prepared her in ways like no other class during her college career.
“This is the most hands-on project I’ve ever done,” France said. “We get full control of our classroom.”
With experience as a high school teacher, Ringelspaugh understands the importance of this project for both the college and high school students.
“They are so thrilled to talk with college students. My students in Adams-Friendship didn’t picture themselves on college campuses because they don’t have that life experience,” Ringelspaugh said. “This was a way to get them talking with college students and get them on a college campus.”
The Connections Project culminated with a campus visit day, which saw close to 100 high school students experience a day at UWSP.
English 381 students prepared opening and closing activities and gave their students a campus tour. The high school students presented final projects to their peers and connections teachers from the 381 class.
Both France and Brinkman admitted they were slightly nervous when students arrived but deemed the day a success.
Brinkmann said despite the demands of the project, making connections with the students was wonderful. “Overall it was really an amazing experience for me and hopefully for the students,” Brinkman said.
France shared similar thoughts. “It was rewarding to look at the students’ final projects,” France said. “I think our students learned a lot from each other and I learned a lot from them just seeing the work that they put in.”
Ringelspaugh gave credit to the 381 students for their tremendous work this semester. She feels like the Connections Project provides a unique opportunity.
“I didn’t get to do the Connections Project when I went to UWSP,” Ringelspaugh said. “I really think that it has been a game changer in our program.”
“I wish every program did this,” France said. “I was talking with some of my roommates, who are also education majors, and they are kind of jealous because they’ve never had anything so intensive in their program.”