Two Southwestern Michigan College students who returned to elementary school in teaching roles fall semester received rave reviews.
Principles of Management students Zachary Davis of Dowagiac and Trent Matheny of Lawrence imparted Junior Achievement business concepts for 90 minutes on five Fridays to Wendy Skinner’s 27 second graders at Merritt Elementary, part of Brandywine Community Schools in Niles.
JA volunteers such as the SMC duo deliver programs K-12 that foster work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills, using experiential learning to inspire students to dream big and realize potential.
Davis hadn’t thought about being a role model “until we were leaving. They had thank-you cards and were upset it was the last time. That was hard.”
Matheny not only recommends the experience, he wrote it should be required.
“It’s a good way to understand how impactful people can be,” Matheny said. “I think we impacted these kids, which kind of surprised me because we were total strangers.”
“Our theme was a doughnut shop that had to buy goods to make products they sold, showing how money works in a community,” said Davis. “We brought in doughnuts the second week” to sweeten the lesson.
Davis is an avid rock climber (American Mountain Guides Association-certified climbing wall instructor) and William M. White Hall resident assistant (RA).
Davis started in computer networking due to his passion for drones, but switched his major to business, aiming to complete a Ferris State University bachelor’s degree at SMC.
Though paired randomly, they finish each other’s sentences.
“We work well together,” said Davis, a product of Kincheloe Elementary School.
Matheny commutes from his Van Buren County home. “(SMC) is a good school to transfer my credits to my next college,” Western Michigan University, to major in finance. “The first time I came to campus (junior year), I liked how it was set up. It’s nice that it’s farther out, away from noise. I really liked the school at first glance. Spring will be my last semester.”
“We both loved the class and felt a really good connection with the kids. It made helping younger kids appealing,” said Davis, who considered teaching mathematics.
“I never would have thought of myself teaching,” Matheny said. “It’s always been hard for me to transfer information to somebody if they don’t understand right away. This experience was an eye-opener. It’s always been a dream to be a history teacher, but I don’t think the work is there. I work on cars a little bit, work at our family’s scrap yard (Clark’s Auto Parts on Red Arrow Highway) and take care of my farm animals.” He attended two Detroit Lions games—both wins.
“I have been honored to have Zach and Trent in classes at SMC and am very proud of the work they do in my classroom,” Professor of Business Jane Mitchell said, “but it gave me goose bumps knowing they did such a wonderful job outside our classroom.”
“It was a positive learning experience for us all,” Skinner said, though “I admit I was nervous about bringing in students. My fears quickly subsided” when she received their e-mail.
“Zach and Trent were professional throughout and extremely patient with my class,” Skinner said. “I wrote to thank them for how they dealt with the food situation. Zach and Trent not only listened to the children, but went out of their way to provide nutritious snacks and made available a snack for a diabetic child.”
“These young gentlemen were role models for my children and provided them with an experience that went over and beyond the learning objective,” Skinner said. “I have two children with special educational needs. One child is very withdrawn and would not take part in the lesson. However, after the first lesson he wanted to join in and continued to participate for the rest of the program.”
“These students were so well-organized and prepared, it is a challenge to think of an area of improvement,” Skinner said. “Zach and Trent are a credit” to Mitchell and to the SMC School of Business.
“I asked what they learned and they spoke about leadership, communication, working together, patience, reinforcing what was learned in their business courses, influencing young minds, preparation and public-speaking skills,” Mitchell said. “They both had to write a short paper about their experience. After reading their papers, I believe they learned more from this JA volunteer opportunity about their own abilities than they knew they had. I’m sure they will always remember it fondly.”