Class Profile: Environmental science provides new perspective for students with disabilities

SPED 399: Environmental Science for Students with Disabilities gives both the students and instructors an opportunity to learn through real world experiences.

Senior Molly Jones teaches the class, which is a credited directed study project, to 20 students in the Learning Independence, Vocational and Educational Skills program, Geneseo’s special education program. Jones said that the goal of the class is for students to gain a basic understanding of the topic and a general awareness of their impacts on the planet as individuals.

“I volunteered for a year with L.I.V.E.S. and I ended up participating way more than I needed to fulfill the requirement,” Jones said. “I liked the students so much that instead of volunteering for another year, I decided to teach.”

Jones, a biology major, said that she wanted to teach environmental science because it is “something that they are going to need in society” and because it is related to current events.

“[The students] all have a limited background with this,” she said. “Many of them will probably be performing their first lab setups and write-ups.”

The class is structured around four units: human population growth, water, energy and global climate change. Each unit introduces the topics, includes a discussion of a current or local phenomenon that relates to the students and concludes with an interactive project.

Juniors Melissa Price and Fred Young said they enjoyed the food research project at the end of the human population growth unit.

“We really had to do in-depth research for our projects and we learned things we never knew before,” Price said. Young agreed that he enjoyed the research aspect most.

Jones said that planning and preparing for each class has consumed a lot of her time, especially as this is her last semester as an undergraduate.

“Differentiating, or meeting the needs of each student, has taken time,” she said. “I think it’s just as bad to not meet someone who is excelling as it is to stay behind for someone struggling. Creating a lot of choices for students is what takes the longest.”

Jones added that the extensive planning and differentiating has helped her work with her students on a more personal level.

“Even when I was student teaching I didn’t get a very personal experience,” Jones said. “It’s been really difficult to make that connection with everyone but also a really good experience.”

Assistant professor of education Elizabeth Hall, Jones’ mentor for the project, said that she feels these kinds of opportunities to teach are vital for prospective teachers.

“I give students the chance to teach the L.I.V.E.S. students because as secondary education majors they will have this population in their classrooms. It’s an opportunity to learn about diversity and what the students are or are not able to do,” she said.