"Backpacks for Success" Simulation Held for USA Preservice Teachers
Posted on December 19, 2019 by Amber Day
A team of researchers, led by USA College of Education and Professional Studies faculty members Dr. Joe'l Lewis Billingsley, Dr. Benterah Morton, Dr. Katie Guffey, Dr. Andre' Green, and Jennifer Towne, recently implemented "Backpacks for Success" for more than 30 USA preservice teachers.
"Backpacks for Success" is a simulation that challenges participants to become aware of the adversities influencing the lives of students.
"The idea of this simulation came from Dr. Andre' Green for the SENOYCE Conference in Summer 2019," Dr. Billingsley said. "He challenged the research team to answer the following question, 'How can we help educators know what students bring with them into the classroom?' We started researching the statistics of students in Mobile County and Alabama. After creating student profiles and contacting experts, we conducted a community awareness simulation with over 200 conference attendees. After learning from this experience, the research team began planning to implement the simulation with preservice teachers in our college."
Each participant in "Backpacks for Success" became a student and was given a statistically derived profile of quality of life indicators to navigate through a "day in the life" of such a student. Participants experienced the 'backpack' that students carry daily to the learning environment. Participants interacted with other 'students' in a classroom lesson and lunch/snack setting. Here, school-home discrepancies were strongly made apparent.
Several activities and discussions provoked USA preservice teacher's awareness of the community, or lack thereof, thus causing them to ask questions, seek solutions, and identify strategies to mitigate the issues secondary students are statistically challenged with every day.
"As educators, we seek to find ways to increase the proximity of our CEPS students to the challenges in the community that impact the students they will teach," Billingsley said. "'Backpacks for Success' is one way that we can bring the community to our students with facilitated dialogue and expert resources. This research aims to increase empathy and awareness of community issues by better preparing teachers and community stakeholders for effective communication, resourceful problem-solving and appropriate support of students."
The goal of the simulation was for preservice teachers to leave with their 'backpacks' fully aware of community issues impacting students' lives and prepared to handle the indirectly assigned tasks of educators.
An expert panel of community liaisons attended the session to share insight, resources, and tactical practices to managing such issues. The panel included Kelsey Bryant, prevention education coordinator from Rape Crisis Center; Katherine Pitman, outreach and community engagement coordinator at United Way of Southwest Alabama; Teresa Bettis, executive director at the Center for Fair Housing, Inc.; and Monique Pettaway, academy specialist at Williamson Preparatory Academy.
Fruitful and thought-provoking dialogue left participants in reflection and a deeper understanding of the needs of students. Data were collected to assess preservice teachers' empathy for students in their community after implementing "Backpacks for Success."