Education Initiative—A Firsthand Perspective
launched in 1999,grants January Interterm
fellowships to Smith undergraduates, who intern with classroom
teachers in urban schools in New York, Boston, and Springfield.
Most fellows are placed in classrooms and schools of Smith
alumnae—many of whom were introduced to urban teaching
through their own fellowship experiences. The program was
originally funded by a grant from Debra Gastler '75, with
additional funding provided by Alison Overseth '80, Jane
Cecil '50, and the family of Lucy Absilah. "The generosity
of our alumnae have enabled us to provide students with
an opportunity to learn first-hand about great teaching,
school reform, and the critical issues facing urban educators," notes Urban
Ed program founder Sam Intrator, professor of education
and child study.
Urban Ed fellows lived
with Smith alumnae in New York City while teaching at public
schools in the city in January. Some of the fellows wrote
about their experience for the Gate.
By Dena Greenstreet ‘15
Jumping out of bed at 5 a.m.,
I left my temporary Park Avenue residence to take the subway
uptown for my job at KIPP Star Elementary School in Washington
Heights, where I worked in January as a teaching assistant
for a first-grade class of 28 students through the Urban
Education Initiative program.
As I waited for the train,
I thought about my new student, John. We had to learn to
read 253 words that week. Would my class get it all done?
Could I do this? Would it make a difference? Taking one last
sip of coffee, the subway doors opened and my day began.
Urban Ed fellows Dena
Greenstreet '15 (on right) and Gloria Lee '15.
at KIPP Star Elementary School.
I pursued the Urban Education
Initiative as a way to jump into the deep end of the fascinating
education field, and as a way to help me define the next
step of my journey as a student. Previously, my urban educational
experiences included working as a guitar teacher for Girls
Rock Philly, a rock n’ roll and empowerment summer camp for young girls in Philadelphia,
and most recently as a personal academic tutor for Smith’s
Project Coach in Springfield, Mass. Both of these experiences
piqued my interest in urban education and pulled my heart
into the matter, as I formed close bonds with my students
and became aware of their individual challenges growing up
in the two cities.
However, my time as an Urban
Ed Fellow provided a challenge unlike any of my previous
positions. Though I was officially a teaching assistant,
my job description ranged from photocopying to first-aid
to working one-on-one with students like John, who were just
beginning to read. My classroom, called the Michigan Wolverines,
was co-taught by two talented women, but its students presented
deep behavioral and academic differences and challenges.
KIPP Star is currently in its
second year of operation, and observing a school in its formative
years was eye-opening. I had the privilege of working in
the company of Katherine LeBron ’12, a Teach
for America Corps member and kindergarten teacher in her
The days are long at KIPP Star.
Each school day is nine hours of classroom time, and several
more hours of planning and grading work. Every day was a
rollercoaster of interactions, as I came to know 28 students,
two teachers, and many members of the administration.
days began with morning program, a “pump-up” assembly where the students
dance and sing KIPP songs that promote showing Character,
one of KIPP’s five core values (the others: Choice, Curiosity,
Confidence, and Community). The hours that followed were
heavily scheduled with academics, and a few “specials,” such
as art and fitness. It is a schedule that was an enormous
accomplishment for 6-year-olds to complete each day. It was
also an enormous challenge for me, and left me spent when
I returned home.
Throughout my Urban Ed Fellowship,
I often felt like I was straddling the border of two different
worlds. I was welcomed into a community in a West Harlem
school while living as a guest to a family on the Upper East
Side, and frequently indulging in some of the finest food,
art, music and sights the city had to offer.
My host, Anne
CAO of Towers Watson, graciously opened her home to me and
fellow Urban Ed participant Gloria Lee ’15. She guided us
in learning to navigate New York.
The contrast between my
living and working situations was at times jarring, but one
that enabled me to engage as a guest in two worlds I had
I returned to campus this semester
empowered by my realization that an education at Smith leads
to invaluable connections and experiences that open countless
doors. Also, I emerged from the January fellowship with a
strengthened passion for education, a newly ignited interest
in urban educational policy, and a desire to begin exploring
the field of counseling, since I truly enjoyed the time I
spent working one-on-one with children, and addressing their
I had the privilege of watching
young students start their journeys to college, and the opportunity
to observe a system of education that was foreign to me.
I now see the world of education and my own educational journey
with fresh eyes, and I am ready to take on my next challenge.