Concordia St. Paul News

September 5, 2018

Dr. Michele Pickel Honored for PLUS Time Program

Concordia St. Paul professor, Dr. Michele Pickel, was honored on August 28 for her work with the Playful Learning with University Students (PLUS) Time program.

Dr. Michele Pickel was awarded for her work developing and facilitating the PLUS Time program.

In 2001, the Dayton Avenue Presbyterian Church and the Twin Cities Housing Authority were running multiple housing programs in the metropolitan area but wanted something different at Liberty Plaza located near the Concordia University, St. Paul campus. The groups envisioned an after-school and summer learning program that provided an environment where the community’s children could be involved in activities for personal growth and development – where they could learn while having fun. They turned to CSP for guidance and Concordia turned to Dr. Pickel.

“My dissertation was “Developing Influential Children through the use of Motivational Literacy Intervention Strategies,” so when I had the opportunity to work with children from immigrant families whose parents and siblings spoke little or no English, I couldn’t resist,” Dr. Pickel expressed.

The collaborative program idea was initiated in 2001 and launched in 2002 with the help of a Minnesota start-up grant. Children came after school for the opportunity to have fun while receiving homework help. In addition, the program offered learning activities for subjects like science, math, and literacy – all in a safe and positive learning environment.

Other activities included cooperative projects, role-playing, and simulations that were enriching and engaging and reinforced academic skills, but allowed the students to grow emotionally. When the program’s small classroom space was replaced with the newly-built Community Center, Dr. Pickel designed the classrooms to maximize student engagement.

Pickel’s hope was that the children would become so excited about learning that they would take their new skills home to share with their families. 

“Not only did I fall in love with the children, but as I engaged our Concordia students and worked with them to plan active, experiential, and fun learning activities, the students learned to love working with the PLUS Time kids as well,” Dr. Pickel recalled.

The program was held every Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 6:00 p.m. for 16 years with the help of a team comprised of one supervisor and CSP student volunteers. Concordia’s students had the opportunity to apply learning strategies, connect with children in the community, fulfill human relations hours, and support English language learners through their work with PLUS Time.

PLUS Time students on a field trip to a farm

That experience has made a lasting impression on its student volunteers.

“Because many of the children come from bilingual families and are recent immigrants, my days are full of exciting opportunities and challenging moments, but the challenges are always outweighed with the children’s endearing personalities, the numerous hugs I receive every day, and witnessing someone realize that, ‘Hey! I can read!’” CSP student volunteer Erin Thompson once noted. 

Many of CSP’s students have gone on to pursue careers working with children in similar settings and situations based on their work with PLUS Time.

While the program came to an end in June, the impact of the program is profound and felt by many, including Dr. Pickel.

PLUS Time volunteers and students on a field trip

“PLUS Time has had a powerful and lasting impact on my life,” Dr. Pickel reflected. “Even more importantly, I pray that the PLUS Time children will be blessed in their adult lives and that they remember and be forever changed by those fun, Christian university students who touched their lives with love and ultimately be open to hearing the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ.”

Following PLUS Time, Dr. Pickel is hard at work on her next endeavor. PLUS Time became the bridge between her dissertation and the development of her program, Horse Powered Reading. The program uses horses to create experiential metaphors for reading skills to help students struggling with social-emotional issues that interfere with reading development. Dr. Pickel is now teaching Horse Powered Reading throughout the United States and across the globe.