As an educator, Mildred Pearson has always seen her role as that of a mentor. She doesn't just teach her students -- she aims to be a positive influence in their lives. And since her students will one day be teachers, Dr. Pearson also hopes to instill that same attitude in as many of them as possible.
"I believe our students really follow our mission: applied learning," said Pearson, a professor in EIU's Department of Early Childhood, Elementary, and Middle Level Education. " As I mentor our students, I believe they will then give back to the students they’re going to serve."
Pearson says the people who have mentored her throughout the years, especially her parents, are responsible for this approach.
"It was instilled in me at a very young age to give back and lift up others as I climbed," remembers Pearson.
For Pearson, her commitment to "social emotional learning" (incorporating teaching of life skills into the educational process) extends far beyond the classroom. She's the driving force behind the Bridging Voices in Our Community Bullying Prevention Conference, which Eastern hosts annually and recently celebrated its fifth year of existence.
"The Bridging Voices in Our Community Bullying Prevention Project serves as a catalyst to help educate and equip the learning community in the area of bullying prevention," says the program's mission statement. "We offer support and hope for those we serve; continuously striving to save a life one day at a time."
Each year, the conference arranges for speakers and workshops at EIU; students and educators are encouraged to attend as bullying and related problems are certainly something they'll come across as part of the educational system.
"One of the things we were able to do these past five years is read the feedback from our teachers and attendees," said Pearson. "Over the years, teachers have articulated to us that they need more teaching strategies and methodologies. They need to know how to integrate social and emotional learning with what they’re already doing."
You can learn plenty more about BVC -- including the history of the conference -- at its website.
Another program for which Pearson has been instrumental is something she calls MAPS: Mentoring Advisory Partnerships and Service.
"What we really wanted to do through that program is to match EIU pre-service students with teachers," explained Pearson. "And those teachers would then — because I believe it’s reciprocal — mentor our pre-service teachers while our pre-service teachers will have the opportunity to teach mini-lessons that would be life-changing to students.
"This is one of the ways we wanted to start a mentoring program; by having students go into a classroom. Those mini-lessons would be centered around social emotional learning so we can decrease students’ anxiety and distress … we want to make sure they know they have a support system -- not only in us, but also in the students who will be going out to teach."
Pearson's mentoring projects have also extended beyond the Charleston/Mattoon area; a partnership with the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center for what she calls the "S.E.E. Day experience."
"This will be our third year of hosting the S.E.E. Day," said Pearson. "It stands for social and emotional excellence experience. The S.E.E. Day experience is really for the kids. In the fall we have our BVC bullying prevention conference, which focuses on teaching and professional development. In the spring, we focus on our students in the K-12 schools.
"Urbana Youth Connection has been great; they’ve been involved the last two years. One of the things I”m most proud about with the S.E.E. Day experience is that students hate to leave. It’s on a Monday night, but they hate to leave because they’re learning about life skills that’s going to sustain them in the long run."