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by Marcia L. Santore
Michelle Morse and Jamie Roy were both looking for placements as student teachers for the spring 2005 semester. They started with different expectations and desires, but they each found their ideal placement at Bakersville Elementary School in Manchester, N.H., the state’s most diverse school system.
Michelle Morse grew up in Manchester, in a neighborhood typical of what most PSU students are familiar with. “I had little experience through school with children from other cultures,” she recalls. “My junior high school had students from all over the city, but served mostly the more affluent suburban elementary schools, so even there, there was little diversity.” It was only when she joined the Manchester Boys and Girls Club that she got to know kids from different races.
Michelle wanted to student teach in Manchester and got interviews with both Bakersville and Jewett Street School. Jewett was similar to her own elementary school, so she was inclined to think she’d be most comfortable there. When she ended up assigned to Bakersville, she was worried. “Although I had never been to the school, I had always heard rumors about troubled students and how it was not a school that I would want to be at.”
But after meeting the Bakersville staff and students, Michelle knew she was in the right place.
On the other hand, Jamie Roy was seeking an ethnically diverse elementary school. Unlike most PSU students, Jamie grew up in a relatively diverse, urban neighborhood in Nashua. She wanted to student teach in a similar environment. To find the right school, Jamie was able to take advantage of a new Professional Development School (PDS) partnership between Plymouth State University and school districts in more ethnically diverse areas of the state.
As her student teaching semester approached, Jamie attended a Professional Development Schools Fair, where representatives from PDS schools come to the PSU campus to meet prospective student teachers. There she met Judy Adams, principal of Bakersville Elementary in Manchester and found the school she was looking for.
Ethnic diversity. It’s on the rise throughout the United States, although New Hampshire is still much more monochromatic than many states. But the state is becoming more diverse: the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the state will gain 84,000 people between 1995 and 2025, with 31,000 of those arriving from other countries. While New Hampshire will remain an overwhelmingly white state (moving from 97.1 percent in 1995 to 94.5 percent in 2025), minority populations will be increasing by between 64 percent (for African Americans) and 163.3 percent (for Hispanics), with other groups falling somewhere in between. Most of this growth in diversity is taking place in the southern part of the state, particularly in urban areas. But the northern and more rural parts of the state, such as Plymouth and its surrounding communities, and the hometowns of many PSU students, are still overwhelmingly white.
During the recent continuing accreditation visit from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the board of examiners team encouraged the University to find ways to increase ethnic diversity on campus and knowledge about ethnic diversity in our teacher preparation programs. Dr. Leo Corriveau, director of the Office of Teacher Accreditation, Assessment and Clinical Experiences (OTAACE), was charged with finding a way for Plymouth education majors to experience more ethnic diversity in their student teaching.
At the same time, school districts throughout the state were identifying needs of their own. Mary Heath came to the Manchester School District as a grant writer after serving as assistant superintendent of schools for SAU 19. She says, “I was dismayed to see the lack of professional learning opportunities available to teachers that would really work with the schools to promote higher levels of student learning.” The district first approached other institutions in their geographic area, but couldn’t find the flexibility they were looking for in terms of reduced tuition rates or the nature and location of the programs.
Building a Partnership
Heath, Corriveau, Kathy Vestal (coordinator of clinical experience placements at PSU) and Dr. Mary McNeil (then director of the Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies [CAGS] and now director of International Institutes and Programs at PSU, as well as a member of the State Board of Education) held a series of meetings with other representatives from Plymouth and the Manchester district. Starting from an “ideal” Professional Development School model, as practiced by other states such as Maryland and North Carolina, the University and the district worked together to tailor a pilot program that would meet the needs of both.
“It’s almost a scaffolding—we’re building a variety of layers of cooperation,” McNeil explains. “These areas are changing rapidly. How can we combine school district and University expertise to address these issues? And how can our students learn best practices to use in these schools? As they’re struggling with diversity issues, they can have a colleague in us. We can work and plan and study together. I really see it as opening doors.”
The plan they developed included offering both M.Ed. and CAGS programs in Manchester, and offering an enhanced student teaching experience for Plymouth State students in Manchester schools.
Says Heath, “We wanted the schools to become the arena for learning wherein PSU pre-service teachers and our Manchester teachers could learn together, and the students (both PSU and Manchester) would receive an enhanced education.” Graduate programs being offered in Manchester proved so popular that “this year the budget for course reimbursement had to be expanded by $25,000 to accommodate the increase in the number of teachers and administrators taking graduate level courses. That is a very good thing.”
Corriveau notes that Plymouth State Professor of Education Mary Cornish and others had already developed PDS partnerships with other area schools, such as the one with the nearby Newfound Area School District (Plymouth Magazine, Fall 2004 Annual Report). He sees the new model as building on the previous ones, rather than simply replacing them.
According to Lee Teitel’s book The Professional Development Schools Handbook (Corwin Press, Inc., 2003), hundreds of PDS partnerships have been built around the country in the last decade. College or university and school district faculty share responsibility for four areas: (1) clinical preparation of new teachers, (2) professional development of experienced faculty, (3) research aimed at improving practice, all leading to (4) enhanced student learning.
On the Plymouth State campus, the OTAACE staff manage the student teaching, clinical experience and certification processes, helping everyone involved and making sure procedures are followed and standards are met.
In the schools, cooperating teachers welcome student teachers into their classrooms and supervise their day-to-day activities and progress. They serve as mentors to the student teachers and provide regular feedback and constructive suggestions for improvement.
Clinical faculty can be PSU professors or school teachers/administrators who are also adjunct PSU faculty. They are the primary link between Plymouth and the partner school. They oversee the student teacher’s experience and review progress several times during the term.
School administrators, such as principals, attend the PDS Fair and select student teachers for their schools. They help the student teachers become professionals by explaining school policies, appropriate dress and how to build professional relationships with the faculty, staff and pupils of their school.
In a true partnership, everybody benefits. For Plymouth State, this PDS model provides a more intense, involved student teaching experience for students, with the opportunity to understand more about other cultures and races. “We’re trying to present a very professional opportunity for our students,” McNeil says.
Kathy Vestal agrees, “Although the transition from college student to professional is a gradual process, when students return to campus there is a dramatic distinction between the student we send out and the professional teacher that returns. This is the OTAACE’s greatest reward, to witness this personal growth.”
PSU also receives feedback from the schools about how well student teachers are prepared and any areas that need to be addressed in the curriculum.
For the schools, teachers and administrators have access to graduate education, and the opportunity to conduct action research to see what really works and for whom.
Action research means studying teaching techniques and learning styles right in the classroom. It is an important component of a PDS partnership. Mary Heath gives an example: “Judy Adams, principal of Bakersville School, used this opportunity to engage her staff members in action research wherein they explored reading-what worked and what didn’t-by reviewing student work and becoming engaged in professional literature about how children learn to read. The teachers who participated were awarded graduate credit at a reduced rate. They presented their work to the total facility. The process has only just begun and this ‘job-embedded’ professional development opportunity for teachers is outstanding and really draws the connection between teacher learning and what happens in the classroom. The focus becomes the learning and evidence of such learning.”
McNeil has seen a lot of interest in the Plymouth State graduate programs being offered in Manchester. Teachers, principals, assistant principals, directors of special education and assistant superintendents are all eager to sign up. “It gives them a cohort of colleagues. They speak the same ‘language’ when they finish,” she says. Another advantage: “They don’t have to travel. We try to be respectful of people who are out at a lot of night meetings. The schedule is designed around in-place practioners.”
A preview of prospective employees is another advantage to the school districts, McNeil notes. “In the next 10 years or so, many teachers and administrators will be retiring. These districts are trying to stay ahead of the curve. They get to observe student teachers in the classroom and know what they’ll be like with kids.”
Most important of all, the children benefit. Today’s children have the advantage of more adults in the classroom, and tomorrow’s children benefit from a better-educated, better-prepared group of teachers with a better understanding of their diverse needs.
Going to Bakersville
Bakersville Elementary is one of the most ethnically diverse schools in Manchester, and has the second highest rate of poverty in the city. Most students can walk to school because they live on the next block in the Elmwood Gardens Housing Development, one of the two largest housing projects in the city. Of the 310 K-5 students at Bakersville, there are children from 15 different countries. Many of these recent immigrants are refugees, so in addition to the language difference, these students and their families can also be facing poverty, trauma from upheaval in their homelands and the shock of leaving everything they know to start anew in a very different country. Some have never been to school before at all, which means their parents must learn how to access services and interact with teachers and school administrators.
The aging building, dating from the late 19th century, underwent extensive renovation this summer, including work on the roof and the heating and ventilation systems, and asbestos removal. Many classrooms are without the kind of books and equipment that schools in wealthier neighborhoods take for granted. The playground behind the school actually belongs to the Manchester Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Department. Despite, or perhaps even because of, these issues, Bakersville is a strong school with a deeply dedicated staff. “It’s more than just the numbers. Bakersville is an urban, inner-city school with a great group of kids and an outstanding faculty,” Adams says. She emphasizes the importance of differentiating instruction in a school like this one, instruction that “recognizes diversity of all natures. Educators need to appreciate the kids for who they are and what they can do.” She adds, “What makes Bakersville successful is the commitment to the students and helping them to achieve. The interns picked up on that and joined right in.”
Bakersville was named the Distinguished Title I School of the Year in New Hampshire for 2002-03 by the U.S. Department of Education and the State Department of Education. The staff has been creative in arranging grants and partnerships to provide such enhancements as all-day kindergarten, an after-school Latchkey program, and new math, reading and arts activities. So it’s no surprise that they were eager to participate in the PDS approach.
In the Classroom
Jamie Roy couldn’t have been happier with her placement. “Having a wide variety of educational experiences was a goal of mine before graduating,” she says. “I was originally interested in teaching within the Boston area but, since my student teaching, I have found the place I want to be, here in Manchester.”
Jamie was assigned to Mary-Frances Tintle’s third grade class. There, she worked with the children in small groups, one to one and all together. “She was very creative and came up with some great, fun ways to learn, especially multiplication facts. She developed a multiplication baseball game and ended her semester with us by having a ‘world series’—hot dogs, peanuts and all!” recalls Tintle. “She really knew the kids individually. They loved her.” Tintle is also the assistant principal at Bakersville and notes that at times when she would be called out of the room on the spur of the moment, Jamie was able to take over without hesitation. “She really felt like part of the class, and the children—right from the start—considered her their teacher.”
When asked about the kids in her class, Jamie’s first response is a big, big smile. “The way they work together, the way they took me in, I automatically took them in,” she replies. “The respect happened right away. It was a phenomenon!”
Tintle adds that while Jamie grew as a teacher during that semester, she wasn’t the only one to do so. “I have been teaching for 18 years,” Tintle says. “I was starting to get to that point where I [was] getting almost ‘too comfortable’ in my ways. Welcoming Jamie into my classroom really made me get excited about teaching again. She brought a lot of life back into the room. This partnership … was a positive learning experience for both of us!”
Meanwhile, Michelle Morse was meeting Karen Berube’s fifth graders. Berube was pleased to find that Michelle was well prepared for the experience. “She was up to date on all the latest stuff, especially the use of technology, so I was learning from her,” Berube notes. Berube speaks highly of all her previous student teachers, but adds that the spring 2005 group from Plymouth State was more confident and ready to jump than other student teachers she has supervised.
“The atmosphere in the school was completely amazing,” says Michelle. The students were so warm and loving. Kids I had never seen before came up to me and hugged me, and were so excited to show me their art work in the hallways. They were so proud of themselves and their school. The staff was the same.”
Another PSU student, Sharon Juza, worked with second graders in Jessica Bickford’s class. Bickford believes one of the most important things a new teacher can do is build rapport with the students and have the confidence to teach them on your own. She was pleased with how well Sharon got to know the students and what would work for each of them as individuals. Bickford notes that Sharon was always willing to go beyond the planned lessons to follow the children’s interests.
Michelle and Sharon collaborated on a community project to beautify the school grounds. They brought together Home Depot, Sears, the Adopt-a-Block program and the Bakersville kids for an afternoon of cleaning up the school grounds, planting flowers and decorating the cement walks with painted hand prints.
“PSU taught me how to teach, but what I learned from my students is something I will always take with me,” Michelle concludes. “Student teaching taught me how to deal with students and how to be flexible. Teachers plan for every subject but lots of times your lesson may not work as you planned and you have to learn to change your lesson to suit your students as you are teaching. … The school gave me real world experience. Students cannot learn when they are hungry because they did not eat breakfast or because they are upset about a problem at home. I learned how important it is to know about the students’ personal lives and how each one thinks. This is something that every teacher should know about her students regardless of where she teaches or who her students are.”
Bakersville is not the only Manchester school participating in the PDS partnership. Less than two miles from Bakersville is Jewett Street Elementary, which faces completely different challenges. Jewett Principal Christina Battistelli describes the neighborhood as “mostly working families committed to their children’s education.” Jewett is handicap accessible, so special needs students are often assigned there rather than to schools in their own neighborhoods. Battistelli estimates that about 106 (or 18 percent) of their 424 preschool to grade five students are identified as having special needs. About 60 Jewett students are English language learners, meaning English is not their first language.
Jewett’s strong parent group runs numerous projects for the school, from ice cream socials to major fundraising efforts for computers, library books, field trips and stipends for teachers to spend on their classrooms. Battistelli explains that Jewett doesn’t qualify for Title I and the federal funds that go with it, so they look for alternate resources. “Even though most of our population doesn’t need it, for the population that does need more intensive instruction, it is always beneficial to have extra support in the classrooms. So to have more adults in the building to be an extra set of ears, eyes and hands is wonderful.”
Battistelli has just finished her first year as principal of Jewett. She says, “Dr. Ludwell [superintendent of schools for Manchester] and I both thought it would be a valuable partnership for me to become involved in as a new principal. He encouraged me to work with Plymouth to develop Jewett as a PDS. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be included in this partnership.”
Other New Hampshire school districts have signed up to be PDS partners as well, including Concord, Laconia, Hampton-Seabrook and Newfound. Each partnership is unique to that district, addressing its specific needs and circumstances. In Concord, for instance, the district puts on seminars for the student teachers to help them grow in the profession. The students can also offer feedback on the program and let the district and the University know what additional preparation they wish they’d had.
Plymouth State usually has about 50 student teachers to place during a fall semester, and 80 to 100 for spring. “Our goal in the beginning was to put half of our student teachers into Professional Development Schools,” Corriveau says. “These partnerships are formal agreements. They take a lot of nurturing, but are well worth the time and effort.”
So what does the future hold for the Professional Development School program? McNeil believes different districts will take on their own distinct flavors. She’d like to see each district focus on its own major goals, and for PSU to work with them on ways to meet those goals—whether through faculty research, supporting CAGS students to do action research in the schools or tailoring new graduate programs to meet new needs. “I’d like them to be comfortable enough to say ‘We need a course that deals with X’ and we can work with them to determine how to provide that content.”
Plymouth State’s PDS program is in the early stages. Everyone involved agrees that taking it slow, trying and then evaluating different approaches, and working collaboratively will determine the program’s ultimate success.
Adams says, “That’s what makes it a real partnership. We haven’t ‘given in’ to PSU and we don’t dictate what they should do. The key is to go slowly.”
McNeil emphasizes the importance of building trust, identifying expertise and focusing on common goals. “You can’t do everything all the time, but you can pool your resources to really address the major ones.”
For Jamie and Michelle, the future has already started. This fall, Michelle began working as a substitute teacher for the Manchester school district while pursuing a master’s degree full time. And Jamie is Bakersville Elementary’s new third grade teacher.