International Place-Based Education Conference Comes to UM-Flint

Community members like Pastor Robert Sherman McCathern (left) and UM-Flint faculty Jori Reigle (Nursing), Kazuko Hiramatsu (English), and Todd Womack (Social Work) work together to educate students and transform Flint.

Isn’t it easier to learn something when you can relate that subject to your own life? Placing learning in the context of a student’s experience not only makes the content more accessible; it also creates the opportunity for partnerships that prove transformational for both students and their community. This is the foundation of place-based education, an educational philosophy that acknowledges a student’s community as a central resource for learning.

On November 7-9, 340 educators from 77 organizations, 15 states, and 4 countries explored this powerful philosophy at the University of Michigan-Flint during the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative’s Place-Based Education Conference. GLSI promotes place-based education across the Great Lakes region through a network of hubs—UM-Flint’s Discovering PLACE is the Flint-area partner.

UM-Flint has embraced place-based education both in its teacher preparation programs (which range from early childhood to secondary offerings) and as a tool in teaching students of all majors. This cross-disciplinary commitment was on display during a presentation by community member Pastor Robert Sherman McCathern of Joy Tabernacle Church and faculty from the UM-Flint English, Nursing, and Social Work programs.

UM-Flint nursing faculty and students work with Civic Park Residents on health-related issues. Click to watch a video!

The partnership centers around the Urban Renaissance Center (URC), based in Flint’s Civic Park neighborhood. As the social service component of Joy Tabernacle, the URC works with Civic Park residents to address their needs. In a 15-block radius around Joy Tabernacle Church exists The Ubuntu Village, which includes buildings that provide Civic Park residents the resources they need to be happy and healthy. “Ubuntu” is a Zulu philosophy meaning “I am because we are.”

It is in the context of this Ubuntu Village that UM-Flint faculty and students work alongside Civic Park residents. Three faculty members presented on the partnership.

Social Work professor Todd Womack teaches his class SWR 304: Urban Context, on-site in the URC, helping his social work students to create a foundational understanding of issues within the practice of social work in urban environments requiring intervention.

Nursing faculty member Jori Reigle, her students, and Civic Park residents focus on wellness together; they organize family-friendly events like a Costume Walk for Halloween. They also focus on mental health through mindfulness and yoga sessions.

English professor Kazuko Hiramatsu and her students engage with URC through a First-Year Experience course titled “I am UM-Flint.” Students support URC programming and reflect on how their experiences have impacted their lives and informed their understanding of community.

Students in the “I am UM-Flint” First-Year Experience Course create research posters to aid in their reflection of the experiences gained through their work with the URC.

UM-Flint and Civic Park collaborate in many other ways; The Department of History works frequently with residents to preserve the story of the historic Flint neighborhood.

“We asked, ‘What if a university worked alongside one of the most abandoned, underserved areas?’ What if all the resources, skills, and mindsets at that university walked with the community? Today that reality is here,” Pastor McCathern says.  

Interested in learning more about The Ubuntu Village? Visit the Urban Renaissance Center online. If you’d like to explore how UM-Flint can prepare you as an educator in place-based education, see the early childhood & elementary degree programs and secondary teacher’s certificate programs offered by UM-Flint.