Graham, Gabel halls remain busy places as learning flourishes throughout summer

Social Justice Summer Camp 3.0
Social Justice Summer Camp 3.0

Summer is never slow in buildings that house the NIU College of Education.

June saw more than 125 educators, mostly from DeKalb Community Unit School District 428 and Elgin’s U-46, absorbing the Social Justice Summer Camp’s immersive and intensive challenge to their thinking, their misconceptions, their privilege and their practices.

One month later, 17 educators from around the country converged on the Gabel Hall Learning Center for the STEM Read Summer Institute, where they solved mysteries, stitched bananas and even spray-dyed their hair.

Yet some of the visitors to these spaces were still in college – and some were neither students nor educators.

Future teachers visited Graham and Gabel between June 16 and July 13 for a Golden Apple Scholar Institute, a “rigorous, multi-week teacher preparation program that inspires, develops and supports undergraduates to teach in schools-of-need.”

Participants travel to K-12 classrooms in the morning to assist teachers during summer school. They return to their host college campuses in the afternoon for professional development in topics such as social-emotional learning, lesson planning, biliteracy, music in the classroom and more.

The initiative also strives to prevent teacher burnout, say Neal Grimes, director of the Scholar Institutes, and Wanda Mendoza, who served as curriculum leader for the NIU location.

“We’re really trying to be a material solution for the teacher shortage crisis in Illinois. We’re trying to provide additional training to support preservice teachers so that not only do they become excellent teachers but that they stay in the profession,” Grimes says.

“About half of teachers aren’t teachers after their first five years. A huge chunk of people are not retained in the profession,” he adds. “But after five years, our retention rate is right around 82 percent. Our teachers stay in the profession. With this additional experience in classrooms, they get to know that, ‘This is something I want to do. This is something I’m passionate about.’ ”

Golden Apple mentors the students after they graduate from college, yet another benefit of the give-something-back dreams of the first Golden Apple award winners three decades ago.

Many taught the Scholar Institutes themselves, Grimes says, and that model remains intact. Mendoza, who has taught in the Chicago Public Schools for eight years, and Grimes are both former Golden Apple Scholars.

“We try to be a value-added to the university experience,” Grimes says. “Students hear the educational theory, and about why you’re doing something. We try to give them a lot of practical applications to apply what they’re learning at their universities.”

Mendoza connected the scholars, who came to NIU from across Illinois, with summer school sites in DeKalb, Elgin, Plano and West Chicago.

Terry Borg and Ted Moen
Terry Borg and Ted Moen

She also arranged for extracurricular activities on and near the NIU campus, including visits to the university’s cultural centers and a civic engagement opportunity at a local food bank.

Terry Borg and Ted Moen, of the college’s Office of External and Global Programs, earned her admiration for their hospitality.

“Everybody was so welcoming and so flexible. Anything we needed, they were there,” Mendoza says. “A lot of the scholars loved the facilities. There were no complaints about the classrooms being hot or the dorms being hot. The classrooms were air-conditioned, and the dorm was one of the best across all of our colleges.”

June’s Adventure Therapy Best Practices workshop drew more than 80 mental health practitioners and leading researchers from across the United States and from as far away as Australia and Canada.

Held June 28 and 29 in Graham and Gabel, the biannual conference included presentations such as “Adventure Therapy Skills Pracstravaganza,” “It Takes a Village: Exploring the Nuances of the Mental Health of Mothers,” “Brave Processing – How to Discuss Perceived Failure,” “Group Juggle Will Save Us All!” and “Let’s Take a Deep Breath and Play!”

Participants also engaged in hands-on activities and discussions on an upcoming professional certification in adventure therapy.

Adventure Therapy Best Practices workshop participants designed and practiced secret handshakes outside Gabel Hall.
Adventure Therapy Best Practices workshop participants designed and practiced elaborate handshakes outside Gabel Hall.

“Adventure therapy is like normal therapy, but the idea behind it is that some type of movement provides more engagement and a more collaborative experience,” says conference coordinator Patrick McMillion, an NIU doctoral student in Counselor Education and Supervision and a longtime adjunct instructor in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education.

Moving “just gets the clients more involved in the process, and it makes it really difficult for people struggling with change to not find something of value in the whole-body activity,” McMillion adds.

“It engages cognition, affect, behavior and movement all in one, whereas other therapies really only address one or two of those at a time,” he says. “Our clients access a different part of themselves to engage within the counseling process.”

Clients of Adventure Therapy also can receive “natural feedback” because they know immediately whether they succeeded or failed in the activities.

“Rather than the counselors providing answers, they kind of come to the answers themselves,” he says. “It’s easier to take responsibility for your change process.”

Workshop visitors enjoyed Graham and Gabel.

“They found it really accessible. Everything was all in the same hallway, which was nice,” says McMillion, who also works as the clinical director of Adventure Works of DeKalb County, Inc. “Just having access to Cavan Auditorium was great, because we’d start and end our days there, and having access to the yard was nice.”

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