SRU students conduct “community scan” as part of teaching experience


Traci Valentino, principal at Case Avenue Elementary in Sharon, speaks with Slippery Rock University elementary education/early childhood majors, Sept. 26, as part of SRU’s partnership with the Sharon City School District.
Traci Valentino, principal at Case Avenue Elementary in Sharon, speaks with Slippery Rock University elementary education/early childhood majors, Sept. 26, as part of SRU’s partnership with the Sharon City School District.

Oct. 4, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Digging deep, finding common ground and setting a foundation may seem like steps for building a house, but that's part of the process for building success for elementary school students. That's what a group of aspiring teachers at Slippery Rock University are learning as part of a partnership between SRU's College of Education and the Sharon City School District.

Each semester SRU students learn from field experiences at several local schools before they become student teachers, but through SRU's partnership with Sharon City Schools, the emphasis is on teachers' understanding sociocultural factors to help children learn.

"I want our teacher-candidates to learn the process of how you get to know a community," said Christine Walsh, associate professor of elementary education and early childhood. "This process allows them to get to know where students are coming from and what families are experiencing when they send their children to a teacher's classroom."

Christine Walsh   

Thirty students from Walsh's Curriculum Integration: Theory into Practice course will co-teach an integrated lesson for 10 classes, Nov. 14 at Case Avenue Elementary School, after participating in programs at Case Avenue and Sharon's two other elementary schools, Musser Elementary and West Hill Elementary. To prepare for the Nov. 14 lesson, SRU students conducted a "community scan" and listened to guest speakers on Sept. 26, before they will watch a co-teaching demonstration, Oct. 17; assist with a family engagement event, Oct. 19; and observe the actual classrooms where they will be co-teaching, Oct. 24.

For the community scan, SRU students drove around the neighborhood, observing the types of housing, businesses and other resources available to the community. Amy Simpson, a reading specialist at Musser Elementary, spoke to SRU students about how to apply their observations when engaging with children and their families.

"If you want be a teacher you have to get involved with the families and the communities," said Simpson, a 1994 SRU graduate with a degree in elementary and special education. "You need to get the know the students' likes and interests because children always learn more when they are interested. It's also important to know where the kids are coming from and to be compassionate toward their needs. No matter what demographic of child you work with, from affluent families or children in poverty, you have to be knowledgeable of both and how to communicate effectively."

The Sharon City School District is considered a walking district, meaning, with few exceptions, it does not provide busing. A majority of the district's students also qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. However, there is more to learn about the community.

Despite growing up in a neighboring community, Natalie Henwood, a senior early childhood/special education major from Sharpsville, said she needed to "dig deep" as a student-teacher for fourth graders at West Hill Elementary, understanding everything from Sharon's after-school programs to which students are getting picked up by single parents.

"Schools like to see how you put the pieces together, why the students are the way they are and if there are ways that you can help," Henwood said. "You're there to be more than just their teacher. Everything you know about the kids is going to help you be an effective teacher."

Henwood and Walsh will conduct a co-teaching demonstration at West Hill, teaching fourth-graders about electricity, while Walsh's SRU students observe.

As one of SRU's Professional Development Schools, the Sharon City School District also benefits from the partnership by offering its students more individualized attention and getting parents involved with a family workshop session.

"We really value our partnership with the University," Simpson said. "We lean on the professors to help us keep current in the field. The teacher-candidates also provide very effective instruction to parents, which provides us a great opportunity we don't always have because teachers are teaching classes and can't always do workshops during the day. We love when parents can work alongside their children with a strategy."

Additionally, SRU students adapt their lessons around subjects and topics that follow Sharon's plans, such as social studies, sciences or even holiday-themed lessons for Veterans Day or Thanksgiving. This year's initiative is to build a culture where children use kindness to drive their actions.

Another benefit is the placement of student-teachers like Henwood. According to Simpson, there are at least 12 SRU graduates currently working at Sharon's three elementary schools who, as SRU students, completed field experience through the PDS partnership.

"We connect all the pieces to impact student learning," Walsh added. "They have initiatives occurring and we have these young, enthusiastic individuals who need the experience."

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