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Child psychology program students give back to community

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By Sara Juarez

Courtesy Photo
Honors psychology students attend orientation in 2012.

When most students think about school, the traditional ideas of textbook reading assignments and class lectures usually come to mind. Well, suppose there was a class that did much more than that. Picture a class where the students not only learn, but also use the information outside the classroom while helping and motivating others in the process.
The Child Psychology program at Grand Rapids Community College has incorporated service learning into the class. Service learning is a method in which community service is blended with classroom education to provide a better learning experience. It allows the students to associate the material learned in class with real-life experiences.
Students in the Child Psychology program are required to put in 15 hours volunteering at Family Promise, an organization that provides support for homeless families in financial crisis while helping them get back on their feet.
Kate Byerwalter, the Child Psychology professor at GRCC, believes this kind of learning is indispensable.
“The primary purpose in doing any experiential learning like this is to take what we’re learning and make it real,” Byerwalter said. “They develop what’s called institutional learning outcomes. These are critical thinking skills and communication skills. You’re learning how to talk to a family with a background different from your own.”
The students volunteer at various churches in Grand Rapids during the evenings through Family Promise. The time spent there includes playing with the children, lending a hand, and encouraging the families.
This year was GRCC student Kendra Belile’s first time volunteering at Family Promise.
“Right now with the poverty we learned about, knowing what they went through, I feel like it’s close to what we learned in class,” Belile said. “It opened my eyes to see how much poverty there is and how it affects kids. I never knew how much it affected kids.”
According to Byerwalter, this is GRCC’s third year of working together with Family Promise. “This is an ongoing partnership between GRCC and Family Promise,” said Byerwalter. “It’s very successful.”
The students enrolled in the Developmental Psychology program for the upcoming winter semester can also anticipate some form of hands-on learning. Students will possibly be taking a trip to Kids’ Food Basket, an organization dedicated to fighting childhood hunger.