Traveling Playground and Study Buddy Programs
The Traveling Playground was operational from Fall 1999 through Spring 2003, when it was combined with the Study Buddy Program. The Traveling Playground provided low-income children in several Kent neighborhoods the opportunity to participate in activities brought weekly to them by education students at Kent State University. The StudyBuddy Program, which operated from Fall 2000 through Spring 2005, was designed to help P-12 students in the Kent-Ravenna area to be successful academically, via one-on-one and small group interaction with an older student, usually a student from Kent State University working in pairs with another KSU student and another younger study buddy. Activities were planned and conducted based on the children's individual needs and interests. Besides helping with homework, the intent of the program was to build self-confidence and self-efficacy; develop meta-cognitive, language, reading, math, and other academic as well as social skills; provide a mentoring relationship; and promote healthful development, within a safe and stimulating environment. Emphasis was on non-traditional approaches to learning; for example, students might engage in a game of “spelling bounce” to reinforce the correct spelling of vocabulary words, or basketball “PIG” using multiplication facts.
The Study Buddy program has been beneficial not only for the P-12 study buddies, but also for the Kent State students, who gained skills, understanding, and wonderful insights along with the experience of working with lower-income children/youth in settings outside the classroom structure. The KSU students, particularly education majors, had an opportunity to gain valuable experience working with children, particularly children who might be of a different background than themselves.
As they put educational theory into practice, the KSU students were provided with a unique look at the “whole child” within his or her world outside of school. Following are some of the LoveLight volunteers’ comments:
“I enjoyed Study Buddies, because I was able to see progress made by some of the students that I worked with, and I also was able to develop a relationship with them which is always very good, to be not only a tutor but also a mentor like a big brothers and big sisters.”
“I liked just being able to interact with the kids. They all have such wonderful personalities and I love just being able to hang out with them and talk about what’s going on in their lives.”
“I really loved tutoring with Study Buddies. I think it is an excellent program because it keeps these children out of trouble after-school. The atmosphere is very relaxing, but at the same time very valuable for the children.”
“…I think participating in the program has given me more experience with young children, especially in the area of conflict management. Because my major is Early Childhood Education, any hands on experience I can get with children is wonderful for me."
“…getting to know your students, relating to their problems, and understanding your students needs and goals, are also very important qualities that ‘good’ teachers possess. I am thankful that I was able to be a mentor/tutor this semester because I was able to develop relationships with both of the students I worked with…”
“A lot of teaching is mentoring. Prior to my experience as a Study Buddy, I thought that teaching was synonymous with instruction. But the teacher-student relationship is so much more intricate and complex than I had expected. There are so many layers such as trust, openness, and coming together on some sort of common ground. Each student possesses an individuality or uniqueness. Different people require different approaches in order to build friendship and trust.
Relating to your students is an essential part of the trust process. Students have to be willing to learn from you, and part of that willingness involves trust. They have to trust that what you are telling them is honest and beneficial. If trust is not established, the student cannot accept you as an educator or as an adviser."
“The study buddy program has been an amazing experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience and have learned a great deal about working with children….”
“Becoming involved with Lovelight Study Buddies was one of the best things that happened to me this year….Working with the kids has really filled a gap I was feeling when I first came to school….You can learn so much from a child….There is nothing more important than setting a good example for youth. I also think that the organization having Study Buddies who come from a college environment is great. It encourages the kids to continue their education and better themselves anyway possible. The most exciting thing about working with the kids is the variety of attitudes and personalities I have been exposed to. Additionally, it is always enlightening to hear something from a kids’ viewpoint once in a while. Sometimes kids are able to help you understand what the more important things in life are.”
“Relationships are the foundation for creating positive change. However, when we judge others, we tend to judge them by our standards, not theirs, and thus, they inevitably become a failure in our eyes. This has tremendous implications for those who work with children in schools….As educators, recognizing genius in all its forms is critical….In sum, I have had the opportunity to work closely with a student from a very different background than my own this semester through the Study Buddies program. With a clearer understanding of the kind of environment and values that this student has come from, I have been better equipped to place myself in a position to help the student rather than to judge him…teachers and others must become aware of the differences that exist between social classes, and must then work to cultivate meaningful communication between people from different economic cultures. Awareness is the first step toward change."
Both The Traveling Playground and Study Buddies have provided Kent State students with an opportunity to practice emergent curriculum development and collaboration with colleagues while gaining experience interacting with children; planning, implementing, and evaluating creative educational activities; and integrating theory with practice. Kent State students in education classes taught by LoveLight’s Executive Director were required to keep reflective logs and submit a final paper summarizing their experiences, explaining lessons learned, and tying their experiences to the theories, trends, and issues discussed in the course. In 2003, the Study Buddies and Traveling Playground projects were the subject of a presentation on non-traditional field experiences at the UNESCO conference in Jyvaskyla, Finland. From 2000 through 2008, more than 380 college students, mostly future teachers, were provided with an opportunity to interact with children in an informal educational setting via the Traveling Playground, Study Buddy and summer programs.
Dream Gardeners is a program designed to assist young people in pursuing their dreams, through personal encouragement as well as the provision of technical assistance, payment of fees or provision of supplies, to nurture, for example, the dream of a future artist, photojournalist, or veterinarian. For several years each December, the “Giving Tree”, a project of the Dream Gardener program, was co-sponsored in conjunction with the staff association of the former College and Graduate School of Education (now the College and Graduate School of Education, Health, and Human Services) at Kent State University. One hundred eighty-four educational and developmental gifts, including many subscriptions to quality magazines have been given to low-income children, in addition to the subscriptions provided to the local homeless and women’s shelters for the children living in those facilities.
During 1999, 2000, and 2001, LoveLight staff and volunteers provided tutoring services for children experiencing difficulty in school at a small learning center held at the LoveLight office. This project was not only beneficial to the students receiving help, but also to the Kent State students involved.
The Starchild Center after school adventures in learning program, which operated in 2007 and 2008, was the product of a community effort to help carry out the mission of LoveLight. Starchild provided an opportunity, within a caring, nurturing, and stimulating environment, for school age children and teens to explore and build upon their strengths and interests as well as overcome barriers to learning. The Center represented an eclectic model which drew upon the work of a number of educators and practitioners in the field of human development and operated under the guidance of educators and future educators.
Activities included enjoying nutritious snacks in a family-style atmosphere; integrative educational exercises; games; literacy activities; drama; homework help; outdoor play; nature activities; art; stories; and other creative experiences. Learning profiles for the participants provided guidance for current and future activities.
More than 50 Kent State education students, from educational psychology, phonics, and developmental reading/writing courses assisted at the Center during the Fall 2007 semester, providing rich, diverse experiences and relationships which benefited these future teachers as well as the “Starchildren”. We were also privileged to have a professional comic book writer visit and share words of encouragement in addition to information regarding his career.
During the 2010-2011 school year, an after school tutoring program was provided for elementary students in collaboration with the Pan African Studies Department of Kent State University. Undergraduate students, many of whom are planning to become teachers, worked with younger students in addressing barriers to success, improving academic skills, and providing enrichment experiences. The children also enjoyed a nutritious snack at each session, which was held twice per week.
The first Professional Learning Communities Academy for Northeast Ohio educators was held at Kent State University over the course of the 2010-2011 school year, with over 100 educators attending. The Academy has been repeated during the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years. To date, 280 educators representing 50 schools in 14 districts in Northeast Ohio have attended the PLC Academy. The purpose of the Academy is to help teams of educators to establish sustainable, effective PLCs in their respective schools in order to improve student learning, increase teacher effectiveness, satisfaction, and retention, and support healthy school cultures.
In 2012, LoveLight opened an office at 154 North Water Street in Kent and began the Tutoring PLUS program which is designed to work with students, parents, and teachers to identify and overcome barriers to learning, promote healthful development, and build skills to support participant success in academics as well as life outside of school. A unique feature of the Tutoring PLUS program is the incorporation of Rhythmic Movement Training and other exercises, as appropriate.
Current activities are part of either the Building Community, Building Futures intiative or the STAR Institute.
A major goal in 2016 is the purchase and transformation of a property in Kent to house the STAR Institute which will include a child development and learning center as well as other programs serving the community.
The various endeavors undertaken by LoveLight, Inc. since its creation have been made possible through the support and cooperation of many individuals and entities. Additional support is needed now as we enter a new, expanded phase of service to the community, the STAR (Service, Teaching, Advocacy, and Research) Institute. Although services will be available to families on a sliding fee basis, we are particularly interested in helping those who lack the financial resources to adequately address the needs of their children who are struggling academically. Once the Institute is fully operational, we anticipate supporting the STAR Institute through grants, donations, contracts, and fees for service.