Picture this: A university professor teaches a group of 40 students, who are English-language learners, at a local elementary school. Around the children, 20 teachers observe; among them is an expert teacher for the school district who will help them better understand the teaching strategies being used by the professor.
This is but one example of the many collaborative activities that faculty, staff and students at Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University engage in every day. Faculty recognize that the most challenging social and educational issues can only be solved when the university faculty and students work side-by-side with community education and social service professionals.
It is common for citizens to characterize a university as an ivory tower, removed from the local community and pressing social challenges. Not so. For Woodring, the idea of strong collaborations with area schools and community based organizations is central to our work. In fact, it is part of our college mission to "develop collaborative partnerships that promote the learning and well-being of individuals, families and the community."
Woodring places university students in P-12 schools and community-based organizations for practicums and internships. As but one example, consider that students in our Human Service program alone provided nearly 30,000 hours of community service during the 2011-12 academic year. At the state's current minimum wage rate that is the equivalent to providing over $250,000 of human labor to community-based organizations, extending their often-strained ability to provide much needed social services to those in need.
We are working with a low-income, highly diverse school in the Mount Vernon School District on a project appropriately named "collaborative schools for innovation." This project brings faculty and teacher education students from the university to work with teachers and administrators of the school, as well as local community leaders, in pursuit of innovative teaching and learning practices to foster increased academic achievement.
The college serves as the home to three college pipeline programs. The "Building Bridges to Migrant Youth" program brings more than 200 youth from migrant families to campus to learn about college as an option for their future. The "Compass 2 Campus" program earlier this fall brought nearly 900 fifth-grade students from Whatcom and Skagit schools to campus to experience more than 140 different college-wide activities. The "Latino Community Outreach" program at two local middle schools sends faculty and university students to engage in youth mentoring programs, professional development for teachers and a community literacy initiative.
We have strong partnerships with Windward School in Ferndale as well as with Kulshan and Shuksan middle schools. We are engaged in assisting new immigrants living in low-income housing with job search skills. Even our new Registered Nurse-to-Bachelor of Nursing program has been developed in partnership with health organizations in the area.
These are but a few examples of the work we are engaged in off-campus. Additional efforts include working with local school districts to increase the number of young people who might consider teaching as a profession. It includes service commitments to the state as consultants around educational policies and programs. And it includes assuming leadership roles in national and international organizations in pursuit of sustainability, diversity and social service.
In short, Woodring recognizes that we have an important role to play in schools and communities. We strive to make an impact that is significant and relevant to their needs. We know no other way.
Francisco Rios is dean of Western Washington University's Woodring College of Education.