You could learn a lot about how to live your life from a fourth-grader.
KPLU Program Director Joey Cohn spent three months helping students at Seattle’s Schmitz Park Elementary School write and talk about their passions. He was granted an administrative professional development leave to help two classes at his daughter’s school produce a CD.
Cohn helped the students write their stories, then recorded them at KPLU’s studios in downtown Seattle, working with them on their delivery. He sold the CDs as a fund-raiser for the school, bringing in nearly $1,500.
“ ‘Student Stories’ was a great experience for me because I got to hear 47 kids express themselves,” Cohn said. “It was the first time most of them heard their voices recorded. To see their expressions when they first heard themselves was very entertaining.”
Cohn said the time off to work at the school his daughter, Julia, attends and the opportunity to inspire students were invaluable. Equally important was what he learned from the students, teachers and parent volunteers involved in the project.
“I learned that I really enjoy working with kids,” Cohn said. “I observed how teachers manage their classrooms and how they interact with students. I saw that because there was a mutual respect between the teachers and the students, it resulted in very few disciplinary problems. I learned that positive reinforcement with children is much more effective than negative feedback. These are all lessons that apply to my work at KPLU.”
Cohn is just one of the administrators granted a professional development leave. PLU offers up to four leaves per year to longtime employees to complete projects that benefit them personally and professionally.
Human Resources Director Teri Phillips said the administrative leaves are part of PLU’s commitment to lifelong learning.
To be eligible for a leave, which can be up to three months, administrators must have been employed by the university for at least seven years, have a specific plan for their time away and complete a summary of what was accomplished. They earn 90 percent of their salary while on leave.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” said Alina Urbanec, who as associate director of Human Resources was granted a leave in 2000-01 to study women’s issues and Spanish in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Cuba. (The university does not cover travel costs.) A diversity trainer on campus, Urbanec made connections with educational and social justice groups, including the institute that PLU students attend for Spanish immersion programs during J-Term.
During her leave, Urbanec realized she wanted to work more closely with students and eventually moved to a new position as director of Student Employment and Career Development. She also started working with students returning from study away programs after confronting her own difficulty re-entering life back on campus.
“It gave me an opportunity to be far enough away from my life to really take a look at it,” she said.
Jennifer Wamboldt, environmental health and safety manager, traveled to universities across the country to research emergency planning from October through December 2003. She went to colleges ranging from Washington State University to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She developed a detailed action plan for PLU to address emergency and environmental safety issues.
“It’s an awesome benefit for people to have,” she said. “I think it’s incredible that we get that opportunity. It gives you a break from the monotony of the day-to-day and allows you to see things with different perspectives.”
Cohn’s project allowed many at Schmitz Park Elementary the chance to see things in a different light.
“Every once in a while a very unique opportunity comes along for students to participate in something extraordinary,” Schmitz Park Principal Rich Mellish said. “ ‘Student Stories’ has been one such opportunity. This CD provides an insight into the passions of a group of truly wonderful students. I would like to give a special thanks to Joey Cohn and KPLU for making this opportunity possible. The generous donation of time and resources will make a lasting impression on the lives of our students.”
From left, Aubrey Cearley, Julia Cohn and Michaela Metros work on recording their stories at the KPLU studios in Seattle. Photo by Matt Durham, West Seattle Herald.