Immersed in what affects learning

Bonner Leader program supports Hannah Swayer in educational equity work

Nazareth University student Hannah Swayer's community engagement at Rochester's Austin Steward Elementary School 46 is a joy for everyone involved.

"Every morning I'm in the classroom, the kids swarm toward me and give me hugs and get so excited," says Hannah, a first-year college student who has wanted to be a teacher since second grade. "They jump out of their seats when it's time to work with me in a small group or one-on-one."

Hannah Swayer
Hannah Swayer

The inclusive elementary education and sociology major — who’s also one of Nazareth’s first Bonner Leaders — has been a tutor, mentor, and teacher’s assistant in the same kindergarten class for about seven hours a week all school year.

Her impact goal: equitable education, which to her means every child has an equal opportunity to learn 

What she loves about her community engagement: The one-on-one moments, such as helping a 5-year-old better understand counting, stand out: “I loved it when she had the lightbulb turn on.” Hannah was particularly struck by another student who, early in the year, would yell and threaten to hurt people and often had to be taken out of the classroom. Hannah learned that the child’s family was impacted by poverty and housing insecurity, which can affect a student’s ability to learn. With support, that student developed ways to thrive and got an award for resilience, “smiling from ear to ear,” recalls Hannah.

How she benefits from being at School 46: Hannah says she sees and practices teaching approaches that she’s learning in her college courses, such as the importance of incorporating play, fine motor skills, and sensory skills for young children. She feels part of the classroom and the school and has gained a more holistic perspective on challenges that affect learning, including unstable housing.

Classroom teacher Emily Hasler (at right) directs Hannah’s work with students.

Classroom teacher Emily Hasler (at right) directs Hannah's work with students.

Support from Nazareth: Hannah says she appreciates being part of two Nazareth programs run by the University’s Weider Community Engagement office. “Weider as a whole has done a great job of integrating me into the Naz community (and beyond),” says Hannah.

  • Partners for Learning — open to all academic majors — includes time weekly at one of six urban sites, Naz student training workshops and reflection groups, and site coordination and support by more experienced Nazareth students (a role Hannah was selected for as a sophomore). All Naz students are paid through federal work-study and college employment funds, which makes it possible for students to fit it into their schedules and meet their financial needs. 
  • Bonner Leaders — which welcomes 15 new students each year through a competitive process — includes a weekly Academic and College Success first-semester course together, plus weekly Nazareth Bonner group sessions with discussions, mentoring on being an effective community partner and ally, developing strategies to be a changemaker, and invitations to be part of opportunities on and off campus. Hannah says the intentionality of the Bonner program helped her find her purpose, build relationships, and get more involved in the community.

Early connections: Hannah liked that Bonner students move onto campus early, before the main first-year college orientation, for a special introduction to Rochester and to Nazareth’s community partners to learn about opportunities to get involved both on and off campus. 

Hannah Swayer

A relief: Hannah was nervous about managing her time to fit everything in and keep up with her classes. She was delighted that the Bonner program and her community engagement are scheduled around her classes.

What is changemaking: You don’t have to change the whole world to have an impact, says Hannah: “You just have to slowly work your way toward making a difference in your community.” At School 46, alongside an “amazing” teacher — Emily Hasler, who earned her master’s degree at Nazareth — Hannah works to listen well and contribute to a caring and trusting environment — to positively affect learning, contribute toward the culture of the school, and further ripple outward.

Why Naz: “The kind and very welcoming atmosphere at Naz is something you can’t find anywhere else. They want you (each student) to be here and to belong as who you are,” says Hannah, who looked at about 10 colleges. On a day she was asked to “bring Naz” to School 46 by leading a lesson about college, she read a book aloud called Kindness Rocks, and the class decorated rocks with kind messages to leave around the school for others to find.