Partner Spotlight: Thomas Desjardins and the 21st Century Kids of Franklin County

The University of Maine at Farmington values the partnerships held with various community members and organizations. These partnerships allow UMF students to get involved in the community while building on their field experience and engaging in a hands-on learning environment.

The Franklin County Children’s Task Force provides extensive employment, practicum, volunteer, and internship opportunities for students, including their 21st Century Kids of F.R.A.N.K.L.I.N After School Program. Thomas Desjardins, Program Coordinator, was able to give an insight into the program, the opportunities it provides for UMF students, and the value of this partnership.

“The Franklin County Children’s Task Force generally assists families in need in Franklin county,” Mr. Desjardins explains. “Specifically, my program is the 21st Century After School Program and the mission of this program is to provide quality after school programming with intensive academic supports at no cost to the students in both Farmington and Wilton and the Mt. Blue school district. We provide a safe space for parents to leave their kids when they are at work. We know how much child care costs, but we want to do more. It is more than just a safe space. We want to promote positive interactions and academic achievement in these children. It is all about caring about the people in the community.”

Out of the 31 staff members, 28 of them are UMF students. Kathy Kemp, a UMF Rehabilitation Services professor, is also on the Task Force Board of Directors. Partnering with the University has given the Task Force and the 21st Century Program numerous cooperative and valuable contacts within the community.

UMF students that are employed through the 21st Century Program have the opportunity to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it to this program, as they are involved in lesson planning and implementing those lessons at Mallet or Academy Hill Elementary School. UMF students serve in the role of enrichment facilitator, academic tutor, homework helper, and as the site coordinator. They plan various STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities, provide academic supports, kinesthetic activities, visual and performing arts, and health prevention education.”

As a previous school principal, Mr. Desjardins enjoys coaching and supporting new teachers and helping others build on their own skills. “[UMF students] learn how to interact, manage, teach, plan- all aspects of being a school teacher. It’s not babysitting, it’s more like being paid for student teaching or practicum. They participate in monthly staff meetings and professional development, they bring in professionals from various fields, and engage in professional discussions around teaching and learning.” Mr. Desjardins values the “organic connection” that students have with him and his program. “Students look for opportunities to further their craft outside of the classroom. It’s a win win situation, they get the experience and I get to coach them. And they get a paycheck!” Mr. Desjardins said with a chuckle.

When looking for prospective candidates, positive energy and good character are the most important qualities for a potential employee to have. “My realization is that in your early 20’s as a student you have a lot of capacity to be built, but you do not have a lot of tools in the tool box,” says Mr. Desjardins. “It is incumbent upon me to expand your tool box. I run this program as if I am a principal and these employees are my teachers.”

Thomas Desjardins and the 21st Century After School Program are valuable assets to the community and the University. Mr. Desjardins cares a lot about the community, families, and his employees. His experience as a school principal gives him the skills and knowledge to work with future educators and help them build on their own skills to reach their full potential. He is a tremendous leader, educator, coordinator, and partner. The University of Maine at Farmington and the Franklin county are lucky to have him as a partner and a supporter.

The Franklin County Children’s Task Force and the 21st Century Kids of F.R.A.N.K.L.I.N Program are always recruiting UMF students for practicum, student teaching, volunteer, and employment opportunities. For more information about this program and how to get involved, please contact Thomas Desjardins at tdesjardins@fcctf.org or (207) 778-6960, or visit the Franklin County Children’s Task Force website.

On behalf of the UMF community, we would like to thank Mr. Desjardins and his program for all that they do for University students and the community. “Franklin County Children’s Task Force, strengthening families for over 30 years.”

 

Teaching with Fulbright in Bulgaria

Caroline Murphy is a recent UMF graduate who is working with Fulbright as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Bulgaria. Caroline too the time to answer some of our questions about her experience thus far.

 

What made you choose Bulgaria?

I chose Bulgaria because I was very interested in living in eastern Europe and experiencing a culture different from my own, because the Bulgarian Fulbright Program is a very active and growing organization, and because I really fell in love with the country whilst in the application process – I could really see myself living and teaching there.

bulgaria-2

What are you hoping to gain from this experience?

From this experience I am hoping to gain a broader perspective on world affairs, to challenge myself to explore new teaching methods and a different way of life, and to develop my skills as an ESL (English as a second language) educator as that is one career I am considering after Fulbright.

 

How has teaching in another country changed your viewpoint/philosophy of teaching in general?

Being an ETA in Bulgaria has reinforced why I want to be a teacher and strengthened many aspects of my teaching philosophy – being as creative as possible in all aspects of classroom life, never giving up on students, always reflecting on my own teaching and trying to be better.

 

What challenges have you faced teaching in another country and how have you faced them?

Teaching in another country has been challenging for sure. The language barrier is significant – my students have varying levels of English proficiency and my Bulgarian is certainly a work in progress, so communication can be difficult. Discipline expectations are very different in Bulgaria than in the United States and this has really challenged my classroom management skills. I’ve faced these challenges by always trying to have a positive attitude and by thinking for creatively when problem solving. It’s helpful to always keep in mind what a fantastic opportunity Fulbright is and seeing every challenge as a chance to learn something new and become a stronger teacher.

 

What can you tell us about Fulbright?  What made you decide to pursue a Fulbright teaching opportunity?  How does a student apply?

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the US Department of State and funds exchange opportunities in the form of English Teaching Assistantships and various research grants. I chose to apply for a Fulbright grant because I had a strong desire to teach English overseas and Fulbright provides a unique opportunity to completely immerse oneself in a different culture while teaching. To apply for a Fulbright grant, a student should first contact the Fulbright Campus Advisor at their school (at UMF ours is Dr. Anne Marie Wolf). They will then complete an application, have an on-campus interview, and submit their transcript. The Application deadline each year is in October, and final decisions are made the following spring.

 

How does teaching with Fulbright differ from your student teaching experience?

Fulbright is completely different from student teaching. The application process is very rigorous and receiving a Fulbright grant requires previous experience working with English Language Learners and/or prior experience living in a different culture. I have a mentor teacher, but her role is more about helping me adjust to Bulgaria and the school climate and less about assisting me with instruction. Bear in mind that this is different depending on the ETA – while I have a teaching degree and experience to back it up, many of my Fulbright colleagues come from different fields and are first time teachers, meaning they will receive more teaching assistance. But in general Fulbright is more responsibility than student teaching and is really much harder!

 

What kind of training does Fulbright provide for teachers?

Each country provides different training for English Teaching Assistants, but all provide some sort of orientation before beginning your teaching placements. I had a ten day orientation in Bulgaria’s capital city and we received some background training on ESL teaching strategies and classroom management.

 

Thank you Caroline for taking the time to tell us about your experience! For more information about Fulbright teaching opportunities visit their website or contact the UMF Fulbright Campus Advisor at anne.marie.wolf@maine.edu.