Volunteers from National Pingtung University of Science and Technology’s center for teacher education on Monday began an annual summer outreach program to teach disadvantaged students.
The program targets junior high schools that are not in rural areas, but still at a disadvantage compared with schools in cities in terms of the resources they have access to.
This year, 15 teachers-in-training traveled to the Pingtung County’s Nanjhou Junior High School and Jiadong Junior High School.
Many of the volunteers come from moderate socioeconomic backgrounds and have sacrificed part-time jobs to join the program this summer, said Wu Ya-ling, a faculty member at the center.
Through a series of dynamic and challenging hands-on activities, the volunteers are teaching a variety of subjects, such as farming, English, cooking and design, based on their fields of expertise, she said, adding that the activities aim to help students explore their identities, and improve their investigative, hands-on skills and knowledge.
The students at the targeted junior high schools have access to relatively few resources at a stage when they are developing their aptitudes and preparing to select a vocational or senior high school, she said.
As a result, the center began sending teams to these schools 13 years ago, she said, adding that the program allows students to expand their mindsets beyond preparation for senior high school.
Some of the courses teach students how to make “ecosystems in a bottle,” “moss balls” or jams and panna cotta, while others teach them how to introduce people to Taiwanese snacks in English.
One activity, titled “Run! Pancake!” gives students an opportunity to make pancakes while learning about the science behind the ingredients.
Hsu Yu-fu, who graduated from the university last month and is volunteering for a third consecutive year, said he was discouraged in his first year as a volunteer because the coding lessons he had designed proved to be too difficult for the students, who showed a lack of interest.
He returned to the program last year with a different approach, choosing instead to teach the concepts of electricity, along with a bit of coding theory.
By teaching a subject closer to the students’ everyday life, he was able to attract their attention, he said, adding that it also became a learning experience for him as a teacher.
Now a team leader in the program, Hsu said he wanted to participate even though he had already graduated, because of the valuable experience he gained.
First-time volunteers Lo Shu-yu and Chan Kai-hsiang, who are junior and graduate students at the university respectively, said Hsu had persuaded them to join the program.
It has been a one-of-a-kind experience, Lo said, adding that the students’ warm response has been her greatest encouragement.
She feels more like a participant than a leader, as the volunteers are sleeping in the junior high school classrooms while the students sleep at home, Lo added.
A total of 52 students from the two junior high schools are attending the program this year.
They have already asked their respective school principals to continue to invite volunteers from the university to lead them in activities and lessons.
The program, named after Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer, was launched by the Ministry of Education in 2006, and it involves students training to become teachers at universities nationwide.
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Photo courtesy of Taipei Times