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  September 7, 2004

Future Teacher Learns Through Volunteer Work

Rupal Jain rarely turns down an opportunity to volunteer, particularly when it involves helping children.

"I'm addicted to it," says Jain, a UConn senior majoring in elementary education.

"I've known all my life that I wanted to be a teacher," she says. "And I want to be able to tackle challenges in the classroom. Part of that for me is being exposed to a variety of experiences and working with children with different backgrounds and needs." Working as a volunteer has given her just that.

This summer, she taught in a nonprofit summer enrichment program for children called Summerbridge Cambridge in Massachusetts. "The program's goals are to inspire excitement for learning, create paths to college, and promote careers in education," Jain says. She learned about the program through UConn's community outreach office.

Jain taught classes in literature and art history to sixth and seventh graders from diverse backgrounds, all of whom spoke English as a second language. "I could relate to them," says Jain, whose parents were born in India. "I grew up in a bilingual household, so I understood the challenges my students faced."

The literature class focused on reading short coming-of-age stories, where her main goal was to teach the students how to incorporate textual evidence into their writing and discussions.

Jain created the art history class on Van Gogh. "That was fun to teach," she says. "I wanted to teach a subject that the children wouldn't typically be exposed to at that age. Van Gogh is a very interesting artist because he did as much letter writing as he did paintings. He and his brother had a great correspondence, and I knew I could do a lot with that."

One student in particular touched Jain. "He had never heard of Van Gogh before and had never been to a museum," she says. "We took a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and he didn't want to leave."

Since her freshman year, Jain has worked with children from preschool through 12th grade, and has tutored her peers at UConn.

"I'm so grateful for the many wonderful volunteering experiences UConn has offered me over the years," says Jain, who was named Student Coordinator of the Year this spring. She was also a nominee for the 2004 Connecticut Higher Education Community Service Award.

Most of Jain's volunteer experiences have been through UConn's community outreach office. She is currently a volunteer for the America Reads program at a community center in Willimantic and tutors at a daycare center in Mansfield. She has also been a math tutor at E.O. Smith High School, a teacher's assistant at Southeast Elementary School, and has volunteered at Windham Hospital and the Mansfield Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation. This fall, she will coach middle schoolers in field hockey.

"Helping my community has been an invaluable experience for me," Jain says. "Through my experiences I have grown not only as a future teacher, but as a person as well. Giving back to the community has given me some of the greatest learning experiences I have had at UConn."