Empowering Learners

Posted June 15th, 2015 at 11:58 am.

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They reach for the sky, bend to the floor, and balance on one foot.

While the poses change, one constant remains, the look of joy on the faces of the children taking part in yoga exercises as part of Puentes Hacia El Futuro, the after-school tutoring and mentorship program run by the organization Puentes De Salud at a South Philadelphia elementary school.

For the past two springs, Bryn Mawr and Haverford students enrolled in the Praxis Course Empowering Learners: Holistic Approaches to Education and Health have been doing their fieldwork with Puentes De Salud.

Guiding the seven- and eight year-olds this spring were Colleen Cumberpatch ’15, Sarah Andrews ’16, and Haverford students Miriam Perez-Putnam ’16 and Elizabeth Rule ’17.

Cumberpatch had been a tutor at Puentes for the past two years, and enrolled in the Empowering Learners course during her second semester as a tutor.

“I can’t do justice to the amount that this course impacted the way I interacted with my students and conceptualized the role of being a tutor,” says Cumberpatch. “One strategy (among many) I took away from the course is the use of full body movement and energy release for students. Even the youngest of students are often kept inside for the majority of the school day, and have very little opportunity to really get out of their heads and into their bodies.”

Alexandra Wolkoff HC ’14, is also a veteran of the course. This year she ran the Hacia el Futuro program as a Haverford House Fellow, and she’ll be taking over as director of the program this summer after her fellowship ends.

In January she began incorporating mindfulness — deep breathing exercises and mindful listening games — into the daily after-school routine for the first and second graders.

“The students’ reactions have been quite profound,” says Wolkoff. “After just a few minutes of guided breathing one of the second graders said, ‘it feels quiet in my heart.’”

Haverford senior Kathleen Tsai has also been part of the program for several years and this spring did a presentation at a conference held at Villanova on the experience.

“I love taking education classes at Bryn Mawr and Haverford on education theory,” says Tsai. “But without having the hands on teaching experience at places like the Puentes tutoring program, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to actually practice what I learn. “

Taught by Education Chair Alice Lesnick, Empowering Learners explores the meanings of empowerment in educational settings with a focus on including the body, mind, spirit, and emotions in the design and practice of education. With holistic and culturally situated approaches and understandings, students gain tools for strengths-based work with individuals and communities.

“With this course, students are able to work at the nexus between education and health, studying ways to address issues including trauma, chronic childhood illness, and mental health without defaulting to deficit-based frameworks,” says Lesnick. “We explore critical and humanistic theories of change in the course, which means we integrate critical language study with theories of mindfulness and healing presence.”

Next spring, the course will include a field placement at Ardmore’s Center for Creative Works, a studio-based vocational art program for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, among other field placements.

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