English education major Amanda Greenthal worked with students from Adams-Friendship and Menasha high schools during the semester-end workshop for the Connections Project. (Contributed)

Connections Project brings UWSP, high school, students together

For the Metro Wire

Twelve years ago, Erica Ringelspaugh was an English teacher at Adams-Friendship High School when she was approached by her former University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor, Barbara Dixson, and former classmate Tony Wacker, a teacher at Milwaukee Vincent High School.

The two asked her to join in a project that would inspire reading and discussion between high school students from different backgrounds while giving hands-on teaching experiences to UWSP English education students.

The Connections Project was born.

Today, Ringelspaugh leads the Connections Project as a professor at UWSP, taking the job after Dixson’s retirement. Each spring the project is offered as part of the Reading for the English Teacher course.

UWSP students work with two school districts, often one rural and one urban, to help high school students from various backgrounds connect with each other through reading.

This spring, students from Adams-Friendship and Menasha high schools worked together to read young adult novels such as “The Astonishing Color of After,” “Eleanor and Park,” and “Dreamland Burning,” then discuss them online.

The project culminated at semester’s end with a day of workshops and presentations by the high school students at UW-Stevens Point.

“I was a quiet student, and this helped me step out of my comfort zone,” said Kristina Zamora, a senior at Adams-Friendship High School.

Her classmate, Kiara Jackson, enjoyed discussions on the novel, “The Hate U Give.” “It helped me find the time to read,” she said, “and I loved that.”

Past participants have included high schools in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Rosholt, Hortonville, and Madison. In 2008, the project won the Ann Lydecker Educational Diversity Award from the UW System.

“We always try to choose books about diversity,” said Ringelspaugh. “It is also a good opportunity for students to get on to a college campus and find it and the college students more approachable.”

The project helps UWSP students build relations with students from different backgrounds, said Amanda Greenthal, an English education major from West Allis. “It also shows us how to create learning prompts and goals and understand how there is a reason for everything as part of the curriculum.”

UWSP English education students take the course in their junior year. It prepares them for the more intense methods classes and student teaching during their senior year, Ringelspaugh said.

“My students are educators when they complete this course,” she said. “They understand teaching in a very real way. It is fun to see them come into their own and see themselves as teachers.”

“I’m so much more involved than in my practicum experiences,” said Greenthal. “The students share their lives with me, and it shows how much they trust me. It has been a great experience.”

Alex Kampmeyer, an English education major from Colby, has enjoyed helping students see the value of reading and writing and engaging with them online on a weekly basis.

“I put myself in their shoes,” he said. “It helps me see what works for them and lay out expectations.”

Adams-Friendship senior Ashley Jenkins enjoyed getting to know UW-Stevens Point students.

“We have built respect and trust with the students and can ask them about their college experiences,” she said. “It has helped me think about myself as a successful college student.”