Ebonee Crosby, C’18, spends her days teaching at a local preschool and her nights in classes at the University of Richmond’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS). Like many SPCS students, Ebonee works full-time while pursuing her bachelor’s degree. Balancing a full workweek with a demanding course load is not easy, but it is necessary to her personal and professional aspirations.

"Getting my bachelor’s degree is a part of the long process to getting my masters of education. I want to be an elementary school teacher, and the program here will allow me to get a degree, as well as my teacher license," Crosby said.

Her persistence and perseverance have played a major factor on the journey towards her career goals. After graduating high school in 2011 and attending another university for a short time, she had to withdraw due to financial concerns. She began working two jobs and enrolled in classes at a local community college, eventually completing a teacher preparation associate’s degree. The University of Richmond’s SPCS program provided Crosby the opportunity to continue her studies while still working two jobs – she also nannies in addition to her teaching position.

In the fall of 2016, Crosby completed "Understanding Language and Culture: Latinos and Latino America," an Interdisciplinary Studies course that is part of the Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts. George Hiller, adjunct professor of liberal arts and lecturer of international business, and Anne Marie Morgan, adjunct professor of political science and State Capitol Bureau Chief for Virginia Public Radio, co-taught the course. 

Hiller is a 2016-17 community-based learning (CBL) faculty fellow with the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, and the duo incorporated multiple modes of CBL into the course curriculum. Class sessions featured several guest speakers with deep knowledge of the local Latino community. Lolly Young, ESOL director at Chesterfield County Public Schools, and Wanda Hernandez, Latino project curator at The Valentine, were two of the featured speakers. Students also participated in several interactive Skype sessions with undergraduate students at Tecnológico de Monterrey, a large university in northeast Mexico. The two classes, separated by over 1800 miles, engaged in face-to-face discussion about a variety of topics including common cultural stereotypes, family life, and business etiquette. 

Over the course of the semester, students were also required to design their own community-engaged project in which they were to think about the ways in which their personal and professional lives as members of the RVA community interact with their Latino colleagues, neighbors, and friends. While the projects were being developed, the instructors encouraged the class to integrate their personal, professional, and educational interests in a way that was meaningful to them.

For her CBL project, Crosby collaborated with the mother of one of her students to design a weekly Spanish lesson and present it in her preschool classroom. The mother, a Mexican-American who lives in Richmond, agreed to volunteer at the preschool to co-teach the Spanish session every Tuesday. Lessons included listening to and speaking in Spanish and incorporated age-appropriate cultural knowledge. The sessions had a monthly theme and were designed to be fun and interactive with discussions about holidays, foods, and colors. The project was well received by Crosby’s students, as well as her colleagues.

"It was like we [teachers] got a free Spanish lesson, too," Crosby said.

Crosby anticipates teaching the Spanish lessons for the rest of the school year, and hopefully, into the future.