Western Colorado University kicked off its annual Homecoming celebration on Oct. 5, 2018. In addition to the iconic lighting of W mountain and bonfire, Western students, faculty, and alumni were invited to participate in the Homecoming parade, an event that has drawn students, local residents, and Western grads from afar.
The Future Educators club at Western designed their own float and invited kindergarteners from the local schools to join them for the ride. Alyeska Riker, president of the Future Educators club at Western, elaborated on the design of their float:
“I jokingly pointed at the rolling white board in the room and said we should just use that! I was totally kidding, but everyone in the club loved that idea and that’s what we chose to do. It was a funny idea, but it happened to be a great way to represent part of a classroom. In big letters, we wrote ‘We Create the Future,’ which is a statement that I think truly encompasses education.”
The local students were excited to be involved in the parade, and the event impacted the Western student teachers as well. Alyeska explained why the event had such great importance to both the students and herself:
“The kindergarten students that joined on our homecoming float loved the experience. For me, it gave me a chance to get to know my students a little bit more outside the classroom and build a stronger relationship with them. The parents of the students came up to me at school and thanked me for giving their child an opportunity to experience something like that and said that their child could not stop talking about how fun it was to be in the parade. Those heartfelt statements make me realize how a simple thing can make such a big difference in a child’s life.
In a small community like Gunnison, fostering relationships between the community and the university can be deeply impactful. Alyeska expressed how participating in events like these can help to create lasting relationships with local students and their families.
“Being a student teacher in the Gunnison Lake School, the community (parents and children) know your face and are always happy to see you out and about. I personally love seeing families out in the valley. I think events like the homecoming parade are just the perfect opportunity to mesh the Gunnison community and college community together and combine as one. I think it is important to feel like you belong to something, especially your community. I have learned so much from being involved with the Gunnison community from being a college student and interacting with the elementary schools.”
Through their creativity and passion for teaching, Western education students successfully incorporated the local community into a Western-sponsored event. Alyeska hinted that the Future Educators club may be trying to plan more community-inclusive events in the coming months to continually encourage a sense of involvement and mentorship between Gunnison students and their Western student teachers. This collaboration will work to further develop their relationships and expose students to teachers who care about them not just in the classroom, but in their local community as well.