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On this blog, we share regular updates about the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners partnership between Extension's Children, Youth & Family Consortium and Bruce Vento Elementary School.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Where Real Learning Happens: A Grad Student's Perspective

By Nora Fox, Graduate Research Assistant
As a graduate student in the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota, I have learned many theories, clinical practices, and policies related to field work. Social workers get to work with various populations and in many settings, like schools, hospitals, clinics, county service agencies and a host of other community settings. And as student interns, our clinical placements provide some of these opportunities. But as students, we need many experiences to prepare us for work beyond school. I count myself one of the few lucky graduate students who has been able to further my learning experiences beyond my clinical placement… and I credit this to the Bruce Vento Elementary School grant project.
About 8 months ago, I was perusing the U of M’s employment website (as I often did, searching for graduate assistantships and other part-time jobs that would fit with my rigorous schedule), and stumbled on the Bruce Vento research assistant position. In my excitement, I could barely finish reading the requirements, qualifications, and other details surrounding the position without skipping ahead to the application instructions. I immediately g-chatted my sister, who serves as both my editor and guidance counselor for all employment-related opportunities, and sent her the link to the position description. “This is perfect!” I wrote; minutes later she responded “You HAVE to apply for this!” I polished up my resume, sent it to her to proofread, whipped out a cover letter, and submitted my application to Judy Myers.

I was delighted to be invited for an interview and met with Judy and Dr. Sara Langworthy soon after. As I asked for more details about the project (what were they looking for in a GRA? What types of duties were involved?), I felt excited as they described their work. Judy and Sara talked enthusiastically about their collaboration with Bruce Vento Elementary School and the strong connections they already had with the school’s principal and behavior specialist. They named current and potential partners, events, and meetings on their radar; I could barely write down all of the details fast enough. Sara and Judy’s commitment, creativity, and perseverance was inspiring and I knew I wanted to be part of this.

A few weeks later, I began my assistantship with them and immersed myself in the project. Before I knew it, we were planning community-engagement events with the Bruce Vento neighborhood and families, forming committees for the school garden and calming room, collaborating with the College of Design for the calming room, and reaching out to fellow faculty and staff for support and feedback. My role morphed into coordinating all aspects of the project, or as Sara eloquently put it, the “resident wrangler.” I was suddenly immersed in a project that kept growing and expanding and reaching more groups and individuals than I had thought possible… and we were just getting started!

As time went on, we solidified partnerships with a variety of organizations and institutions such as the St. Paul Police Department, Marnita Shroedel of Marnita’s Table, Ed Frickson and Kiley Krozak of Family Innovations, local master gardeners, University of Minnesota communication and design students, Second Harvest Heartland… just to name a few!

I soon realized the power and influence that positive relationships have for community building… something I didn’t expect when I enrolled in school to become a hospice or school social worker. In such a short time, I have become directly involved in the very settings that so many social work students desire to. I can’t emphasize the gratitude I have for opportunities to meet and work with such dedicated, compassionate, and driven people — some of the same people that create the theories, methods, and policies that govern our work as social workers.


Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Learners is an ongoing partnership between the Extension Children, Youth, and Family Consortium and the Bruce Vento Elementary School. Together, along with many other partners, we are developing engaging learning environments that promote student learning and wellness.

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