Anne Foley '15 talks with girls at Girls, Inc., where she volunteers as part of a psychology class.

Field work at community organizations add depth to psychology course

April 23, 2014

Experience, discernment, knowledge, community outreach and education are all part of a rigorous, four-credit psychology course that requires students to do semester-long field placements in Richmond.

“You learn more through experience than you do in the classroom,” says Anne Foley ’15. “Although the volunteer work is really demanding, it is manageable and ultimately rewarding.”

Claire Murphy ’14 says she enjoys being able to apply what she learns in class when she observes students at Community Youth Services.

“In ways this helps supplement the material we learn in class, and in others it helps personalize the information,” Murphy explains. “When we read a chapter from our textbook or research article, it is easy to forget we are talking about actual children. When I go to my placement I am able to understand the material from class in a more personal light. It helps emphasize that children are complex and unique individuals.”

From theory to practice

Students enrolled in Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Rachael Reavis’ Developmental Psychopathology course chose their volunteer field placements from a list of opportunities listed on the course syllabus. Each semester, the students point to the service-learning placement as one of the best features of the class.

“We contacted the sites, and they did background checks,” says Lena Flores ’15. “After each two-hour session we answer journal prompts such as what did you observe? Did the experience reinforce what you learned in class? Connect what you experienced volunteering with what you learned in class.”

Reavis says service learning helped her understand people and material better as a student, and it helped her to develop skills that she couldn’t develop in a classroom setting.

“Textbooks and case studies are important, but even good ones can be two-dimensional,” Reavis says. “Interacting with real people helps students see the three-dimensional complexity of the real world. It helps them understand the behaviors and developmental processes we read about. More importantly, service learning allows students to see and appreciate the humanity and individuality of the people in the community they work with and for.”

The course provides an overview of normative developmental processes as well as variations including attention disorders, hyperactivity, autism and others.

Helping kids be active

Olivia Engle ’14 volunteers in the Boys & Girls Club (BGC) Central Unit gym.

“I was surprised on my first day when I was told that it would be just me and one other adult and 40 kids,” Engle explains. “The little girls seem to really attach to me. They tell me how happy they are to see me and how they wished I came more often. On a different level, I think it is helpful to the BGC to have an extra pair of eyes because someone is crying every five minutes it seems. We have them do push ups, sit ups, we get them up doing physical activity because we want them to play. We’re not sure if they do at home.”

Foley and Flores volunteer at Girls, Inc.

“I do hope to make an impact on the children,” Foley explains. “We’ve learned in class that it’s easier to keep a child on the normative path than getting them back on after they have deviated. And if I am a small part of this large program, I will be perfectly content with that.”

Engle says she’s reaping unexpected benefits.

“This helps us to see if this is what we really want to do,” Engle explains. “It gives us some clue about what we will see in our career. These kids are definitely making an impact on me. I love the little ones who seem to appreciate me being there.

“This is also one way that I can be a part of the Richmond community and be a student. It is a good opportunity for me to integrate into the community as a student.”

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