WMU News

Urban education alumni gather for reunion

June 28, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- It was 1970, a time of tumultuous change in public education, patriotism and social activism, when 60 Western Michigan University students enrolled in a bold experiment that would change their lives.

Now, for the first time in more than 30 years, participants in the University's former Urban Education Project will reconnect. Alumni are expected to gather in Kalamazoo Saturday, June 29, to discuss the impact of the program on their personal and professional lives, and after a tour of the campus, participants will join in a 4 p.m. public discussion about education and how life inside the classroom has evolved. A reunion dinner party follows at The Prairies Golf Club in Kalamazoo.

The Urban Education Project, then dubbed "an experimental program in urban education," drew about 60 students in the fall of 1970, and continued for two years. In addition to learning skills needed to become educators, the students were required to complete field experiences in social service agencies, juvenile courts and other venues where they could learn more about issues facing at-risk youth.

"The program, which was designed for juniors, was intended to open up their social consciousness and give them some of the skills they needed to become teachers in urban environments," says Dr. Ronald Crowell, WMU associate professor of teaching, learning and leadership and one of the program's original instructors. "At the time, we had kids coming in from middle-class backgrounds, and some of them were pretty naïve. Also, you had students who were going into education for all the wrong reasons, and they needed to know what was really out there."

Because the late 1960s and early 1970s were such pivotal points in American history, students typically were exposed to a lot of controversial issues, Crowell said. "We gave them a focus for their energy and let them, in part, design their own programs. We focused on rigor and relationships."

Of the original participants, several remain in education today. At least two are public school system superintendents and others are classroom educators throughout the country and Canada. Still, some left the field altogether, choosing to pursue careers in technology, business or the arts.

Organizers of the reunion event have tracked down about 44 members of the class and expect at least 30 to participate in the reunion. For information, call Crowell at (269) 387- 3515.

Media contact: Gail H. Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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