Wanted: Passionate, Intelligent, Caring Teachers for the Inner-City Classroom
Last January, undergraduates from Smith and three other colleges came face-to-face with the daunting realities of urban education, when they served as teaching fellows in eight New York City public schools. The students were part of the Urban Education Initiative, a unique new program directed at Smith by assistant professor of education Sam Intrator and educational outreach director Gail Scordilis. For three weeks during interterm, Smith students, together with students from Amherst, Middlebury and Williams colleges, assisted teachers or school administrators in the inner-city schools. Two Smith students have agreed to share with NewsSmith their recollections of the eye-opening experience, as described in their journal excerpts.
Brooke Whiteley '02, an English major, was paired with English teacher Emily Kornheiser at Murry Bergtraum High School, a business-focused, racially diverse magnet school enrolling 2,700 students from all parts of the city. With Kornheiser's help, Whiteley spent three weeks finding out "what it is like to be on the other side of the desk."
During her fellowship in New York City, Hilary Hobbs '02, a history major, worked with a teacher in an elementary school classroom in the South Bronx. Because Hilary found her fellowship experience to be unsettling, she has not specifically identified in her journal the name of the school, and the students' names have been changed as well.
Partners in Education
Inside the Inner-City Classroom
This year Smith's Urban Education Initiative, a new and innovative service-learning program, sponsored 14 students, chosen from a pool of more than 50 applicants, for three-week fellowships in the New York City public school system. The fellows spent most of their January interterm break in New York City, housed at the 63rd Street YMCA, provided with food stipends and subway passes, and assigned in pairs to work with "master teachers" in eight public schools scattered throughout the city. Their roles were varied. The fellows not only stood before classes as apprentice teachers but also pitched in wherever an extra set of hands was needed, whether it was tutoring small groups of students for tests or working with students on their yearbook.
Most Smith students in the program returned to the Smith campus with a new respect for teachers in the inner-city schools. Many had found new inspiration to work with urban youth as teachers, and others had a clearer understanding that they were better suited to crafting new educational policy-outcomes that are among the goals of the urban education fellowship program.
"By providing Smith undergraduates with a deeper, more sophisticated understanding of the theoretical, practical and human issues facing urban youth and city schools, the Urban Ed Initiative hopes to encourage Smith students to consider becoming leaders and teachers in this important field," says Gail Scordilis, co-director of the program and educational outreach director for the college.
Indeed, the fellowship was a good experience for those who had even an inkling they might want to teach someday, says Sam Intrator, co-director of the program and the author of several books including his latest, Stories of the Courage to Teach: Honoring the Teacher's Heart. "What I'm hoping this will do is raise the cachet of teaching as a potential [career] option for Smith students," adds Intrator, a former teacher in a New York public high school and now an assistant professor of education and child study, "and take away the fear that some might have [about inner-city schools] and demystify their ideas about what they might encounter in an urban setting."
Additional goals of the fellowship program include forging new mentoring partnerships between Smith students and city youth. "To me," Intrator says, "the personal and institutional connections created by the Urban Ed Initiative are among the most profound and meaningful of the outcomes of this program."
On the Smith Campus
In an upcoming visit to Smith, a group of New York public high school students will spend two days acquiring a taste for campus life by attending panel discussions, workshops, classes and even a Friday afternoon tea with Acting President John Connolly.
Likewise in April, third graders from
New York visited Smith to meet their third-grade pen-pal coun-terparts
from the Smith Campus School. Their get-together for a day was
the result of an initial connection made between an urban education
fellow and the teacher she worked with in New York City, who
also happens to be
In Northampton Public Schools
More examples of resourceful partnering can be found in the local public schools of Smith's hometown. This year, in conjunction with the Hampshire Educational Collaborative, three Northampton middle schools are participating in a program that places Smith undergraduates in mentoring roles with junior high students. Some 36 students in Intrator's Education 342 class ("Growing Up American: Adolescents and Their Educational Institutions") visit their assigned schools weekly and work with program directors and the adolescent students in tutoring sessions and other mentoring activities. It is yet another measure of the importance of building positive relationships, student to student, school to school.
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