Interns in Professional Development School take time to give back to community

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While prospective teachers in Penn State's Professional Development School (PDS) effectively give all their time to their State College Area School District students and mentors for an entire academic year, many of the interns still find time to give back philanthropically.

Thousands of Penn State students attach themselves annually to THON, the world's largest student-run philanthropy organization that raises millions of dollars to fight pediatric cancer, and the PDS students are no different. Some of this year's teachers-to-be also chose to help people involved with the Centre County Women's Resource Center, the National Brain Tumor Society and the Helping Hands Fair, among others.

"Everybody does THON and, of course, that's important, but I think some of these other things really show that they're trying to get involved in their own community,'' said MJ Kitt, a faculty member in the College of Education's Department of Curriculum and Instruction and a Professional Development Associate.

"The interns are not on campus at all, so they don't have that community any more,'' Kitt said. "When they get into PDS, they start to develop (it) within their buildings and a lot of this giving back comes from the opportunities that they have within their building. I think they begin to create a new community for themselves and then they do things together and it gives them another outlet.''

The PDS interns' holiday party service project this year benefited the Women's Resource Center, according to Ericka Sinicrope, a kindergarten intern at Ferguson Township Elementary School. "I contacted Morgan Wasikonis from the center and told her about our donations and she was overwhelmed with joy when I told her we had over 50 items to donate to the center,'' Sinicrope said.

"I love helping others, but when I get to see the smile on their face when dropping off items is what makes everything worth it. When I see their smiles, I know I am making a difference.''

Chris Lutz, a second-grade intern at Gray's Woods Elementary, also assisted in the Women's Resource Center project and a Centre County PAWS (Promotion of Animal Welfare and Safety) donation of cards to help celebrate adoptions of animals.

"This experience was a really rewarding experience because I think being able to donate household items to the women's shelter made it more authentic than just giving money,'' Lutz said. "I think more people participated and donated that much more because they could see a tangible item going toward a charitable cause instead of a few dollars. And I thought the PAWS cards added a bit of entertainment to the holiday party in addition to being a great cause to donate to.''

Lutz also participated in the National Brain Tumor Society 5K, a race conducted to raise funds for Jamie Barbarich Covol, an autistic support teacher at Mount Nittany Elementary School who was diagnosed with brain cancer just over 10 years ago.

"One of the most memorable things I took from the race was just how tightly knit our State College community is,'' Lutz said. "I think it blew me away at the amount of Gray's Woods families and teachers that were there. It seemed like the whole school drove all the way out to the Grange Fairgrounds (in Centre Hall), and that I think really made us feel like part of the community at that point.''

Lucy Ruzzini, a first-grade intern at Gray's Woods Elementary, shared similar sentiments about the benefit 5K. "It was humbling to see the participants come together and give back to someone who truly needed support,'' she said. "I'm so happy I participated because I experienced the compassion that manifests when people come together with a common cause … serving others. I'm so grateful for the experience, and it was a lot of fun.''

Ingrid Boarts, a second-grade intern at Easterly Parkway Elementary, took part in the Helping Hands Fair, the proceeds from which are distributed to a variety of local charities.

"Volunteering at the Helping Hands Fair was a humbling experience as I witnessed so many families and faculty members reach out to provide small acts of kindness to the community,'' Boarts said. "I look forward to establishing an event similar to the one I experienced at my future school in order to continue spreading the importance of giving back.''

And others put ample time into THON, including a Penny Wrangle that raised nearly $1,000 just at Radio Park Elementary School. Monika Santini, an intern at Radio Park Elementary, organized that event.

"The students competed to collect as many pennies as possible for their grade and gave any silver coins and bills to the other grades,'' Santini said. "It was one of the most heart-warming scenes to see the joy the students had in helping others, and I am very proud to say that in just two weeks we were able to raise just under $1,000 for THON 2017.''

Chloe Harding, a third-grade intern at Radio Park, and Hanna Harris, a fourth-grade intern at Ferguson Township, each danced in THON in February.

"My involvement with THON has provided me the insight to recognize that each child brings a remarkable story to the classroom in their backpack, maybe even packed with a few struggles from home,'' Harding said. "Through the PDS program, I am able to serve not only as an advocate for the struggles that accompany each student, but also an advocate for their right to a fun, healthy and happy childhood.''

Harris said her experiences through PDS and THON were intertwined. "Every day, we head to school to ignite curiosity, empower hope and set the foundations for success with these kids,'' she said. "During THON weekend, I felt such great excitement knowing and seeing the hundreds of kids running around that were able (or will soon be able to) feel the same passion my students feel every morning as they come through the door.

"THON has reinforced these powers of joy, love and care that everyone should have the fortune to experience.''

Because the PDS interns, whose annual Inquiry Conference is set for 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. April 29 at Mount Nittany Elementary School in Boalsburg, teach every day all day, they become part of the fabric of the school, according to Kitt.

"And they're very motivated and enthused and so they want to participate in extracurricular things,'' she said. "They take on a big commitment with this PDS program. Those are the kinds of people who are willing to do that sort of thing.''

PDS interns who took part in the National Brain Tumor Society 5K to benefit a State College Area School District teacher are, from left to right, Chris Lutz, Lucy Ruzzini, Jessica Riben, Gray's Woods Elementary School Principal Kris Dewitt, Olivia Guthoff, Mary Kearney and Haley Hassinger. Credit: Photo: ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated April 19, 2017