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Winter term education class brings local classroom experience to non-majors

January 26, 2018
Two C of I students in EDU-300 work together on an assignment at Idaho Digital Learning Academy.

Like the majority of the College of Idaho students enrolled in EDU-300 during the 2018 Winter Term, Luis Orozco, K.J. Strickland and Hayden Paul were not education majors. Psychology major Orozco and political economy major Strickland had chosen the class to fulfill part of the requirements for their criminal justice minors, while Paul, a history major pursued the class as part of his education minor.

Regardless, all three were excited to be on the front lines of local education as they embarked together on a series of unique field trips as part of their class, each seeing how exploring local schools could benefit their own major fields of study.

“In criminal justice, we talk a lot about how social issues can affect mental health,” Orozco said. “Education ties into the social issues on many levels, particularly economic. Learning about how different schools operate is helping me gain perspective.”

Within The College of Idaho’s winter term, certain classes offer students the opportunity to investigate the formation of the universe, backtrack the issues and strategies of 2016’s presidential election, and allow students to investigate the influence of music in movies and videogames. Winter term is known for its unique classroom settings, which EDU-300 embraced through regular off-campus trips and activities.

Schools and Society is a class taught by Dr. Debra Yates, associate professor of education, where she encourages students to learn about the social pressures surrounding teachers and schools on both local and national levels. This class focuses on different issues that arise when educating learners from special education, ESL (English as a second language), and low-income backgrounds.

What makes this class special is the work that’s done outside the classroom. Within her class, Yates requires the students to visit local magnet, charter, and alternative schools as group projects to conduct interviews among the students and teachers of that school. They are also required to attend a school board meeting where they observe polices, as well as the decision-making stemming from these meetings.

More importantly, though, the class fits the needs of the students within it. Each student directs the way the class goes. Yates has the students choose certain subjects within her class that are interesting for them and then teaches a lesson or plans a field trip around the student’s subject.

“We don’t just read about it, we go out and do it,” said Yates. “We go out and see people who are doing it in our local community and then we come back and talk about it. We’re going to turn theory into practice. This isn’t just about reading. Let’s do. And let’s get out there and interact with people who are doing this and ask them questions on what we’re reading about.”

Outside the school board meetings and interviews came two field trips at the heart of the 16-day class period. The first trip visited the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) and Life’s Kitchen. IDLA was developed by Idaho educators and the Idaho State Legislature, and is one of the leading online education programs within the nation through its focus on providing ease of access and flexibility for student schedules within both rural and populated areas.

“The idea of IDLA really excites me a lot,” Strickland said. “I think it’s really interesting to see how that has grown into what it is today beyond the traditional public school setting.”

Life’s Kitchen is an alternative form of education that teaches culinary arts, host skills, provides GED opportunities, and upon completion places students within the food-service industry.

From the Life’s Kitchen experience, senior Shelby Epps gained a valuable lesson that she would not have learned within a typical classroom environment. Epps said, “Everybody comes from different walks of life and you can’t just judge someone based on their appearance. Someone can be totally different than you.”

The second field trip focused on Sacajawea Elementary School within Caldwell. Sacajawea is the only school within the Caldwell School District classified as a community school, which utilizes the resources of the surrounding Caldwell community to provide students with easy access to health services, transportation options, and basic necessities like food and clothing with the help and coordination of United Way of Treasure Valley.

The students learned about the school’s efforts through a presentation and tour by Hortensia Hernandez ’15, an alum of the C of I education department and current community school research coordinator at Sacajawea. When approached by Yates to give a presentation to her students, Hernandez jumped at the opportunity to provide them with exposure to a local community school that could benefit from their knowledge.

“For me, it’s about investing back into the community,” Hernandez said. “They’re in a position where they can be excellent role models, whether they decide to become teachers or something different.”

Of the ten total C of I students enrolled in this class, only two of them are education majors. The rest run the gamut of majors, from creative writing and business administration to biology and political economy. Ultimately, the students learned they didn’t need to be education majors to relate the material to their studies.

“At first I just saw this class as a requirement, but now I’m actually interested in schools in the area,” said sophomore biology major Emerson Mullins. “You don’t actually know a lot that’s going on until you go to the area and see what’s happening. It’s been a really cool experience, and I’m glad it was a class for my minor.”

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit