DUNMORE, Pa. – Penn State Scranton psychology students Jenifer Kolessar and Daniele Saranchuk needed an internship in order to graduate this summer. Of course, in the age of COVID-19, such things are easier said than done.
Challenging times call for innovative thinking, and Assistant Teaching Professor of Psychology and Program Coordinator Renae McNair was able to come up with a real-world service-learning experience that more than met the students’ needs.
Kolessar and Saranchuk spent the summer months working with BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) of New York State’s Broome-Tioga office in Binghamton. An extension of local school districts and the New York State Education Department, BOCES provides educational services to thousands of youth and adult students throughout the state.
Specifically, Kolessar and Saranchuk were tasked with developing “Finding Your Path to Resilience,” a series of eight workshops for returning teachers and administrators that BOCES plans to implement this fall.
“The aim is to develop programs and activities that will be beneficial in reducing stress and increasing resiliency in the faculty and staff as they return to school and teaching this fall in light of the fact that we are still dealing with a pandemic,” said Kolessar, a 38-year-old adult learner from Clarks Summit. “It is just as important to provide mental wellness support for the faculty and staff as it is for the students.”
When it became evident that the pandemic would prohibit Kolessar and Saranchuk from an in-person internship, McNair quickly set about trying to come up with an online version that was both feasible and meaningful.
“I knew that K-12 schools were working as hard as we were to ensure that the schools not only open safely, but also had enhanced programs for people who were dealing with the COVID crisis on an emotional level,” said McNair, a Binghamton area resident. “My research is in health psychology, primarily resilience and healthy adjustment, so I knew schools would need these programs as they opened in the fall. The high school where the students did their internship had many programs for students, but they had a hole they needed to be filled — positive return-to-work transitional programs for the adults (teachers, staff, administration) for their emotional health and well-being.”
In the beginning of the internship, McNair shared about 12-14 research articles with the interns about resilience and how it manifests itself in the community.
From there, McNair and the students met via Zoom with a BOCES administrator. Through some brainstorming, the students came up with the programs they could develop, including everything from the design and costs to the marketing materials and curriculum.