Future educators gain experience in urban schools

Ball State education students placed in Indianapolis Public Schools; responsible for contributing to students' learning

Taking a troop of children to the restrooms, lunch and recess every day might not sound incredibly appealing to most college students. But for those in Ball State's Urban Semester program, this experience is a dream come true.

Ball State education students are placed in Indianapolis Public Schools where they are responsible for contributing to the overall education of IPS students.

The students work in both elementary and secondary environments. They learn how to accommodate diversity, discipline students and maintain control over a class -- all before they begin student teaching.

Education professor Ann Leitze said she has been with the program since the fall of 1997. Leitze is the elementary team leader.

Leitze said 22 students are involved in the program. The program just expanded from one school to two.

This can also be a learning experience for Ball State professors.

For biology professor Shireen DeSouza, this is her first experience with the program.

"I wanted to have an experience with urban schools," DeSouza said. "I also wanted to have the opportunity to teach young children."

Professor of education Nancy Melser has been with the program since 1997.

"It gives me a chance to keep my feet wet," Melser said.

Ball State students attend two hours of class every day with the remainder of their time spent in the classroom. They also learn by getting involved in the community.

"The students help put on activities for Family Fun Night where they can meet and interact with the children and their parents," Leitze said.

Students also work with school personnel such as guidance counselors, office secretaries and the principal, opportunities Leitze said most students do not have as student teachers.

"They learn how to go through a classroom of children at the beginning of the day," Leitze said. "They go through every aspect of a child's day until the students are on the busses in the afternoon."

Urban Semester students and professors said IPS schools are a completely different environment from rural or suburban schools. Melser said the program provides a beneficial opportunity to learn about diversity.

"Most of the people in the elementary education program are middle-class white females who are never in an urban environment," DeSouza said.

Most of the apprehensions students expressed, however, had little to do with the type of school they were in.

"The hardest part was knowing I have to be in a classroom every day teaching in a regular school," senior Gena Licata said.

Junior Kristen Schaefer said she was also nervous about being in a classroom for the first time.

"I did not have much experience in classrooms," Schaefer said. "The teacher let me do whatever I wanted. I learned so much in a month."

But for Licata, and many other students involved in the program, the adjustments are worth it, they said.

"I know this program will help a lot," Licata said. "I am starting to get great classroom skills outright."

Students said they are also learning volumes about diversity. Leitze said the students were required to incorporate diversity into their lessons.

"I have to teach in a lot of different ways to accommodate all the students' needs," Licata said.

Licata plans to do her student teaching in Carmel, an environment she said is far different from that of the IPS school she is in now.

"Carmel and IPS are two totally different areas," Licata said. "I'll have a well-rounded experience and I will definitely be ready for teaching."

Licata said she is also learning about a poverty-ridden population. She said a common misconception is that IPS schools all have discipline problems.

"There are discipline problems everywhere," Licata said.

Aside from discipline problems and the everyday challenges of classroom management, students said the benefits outweigh the difficulties.

"These students have so much to give," Licata said. "They just need somebody to help them."

Leitze said there is no difference between children of rural, suburban or urban schools.

"Children are children," Leitze said. "The urban environment is not anything to fear."

IPS students learn from their college teachers also.

"Little boys need to look up to a male role model," senior Zeb Skinner said. "They need one if they don't have one already."

Licata said the students have also learned respect. When professors enter a classroom, students sit up straight and fold their hands, something Licata said she is impressed by.

Leitze said most children come from homes with parents who did not attend college.

"This is a high-poverty area," Leitze said. "Four out of five children have free or reduced meals."

Skinner, one of the few men participating, said he is surprised at how much he has already learned about urban culture from the program.

"I have to watch what I give for homework because I cannot assign activities with crayons or outside resources," Skinner said. "These children don't have these resources and if they borrow them from the school they are likely to leave them at home. I never fathom the lack of parental involvement. "

Most of all, students agreed the program would leave them better-prepared for what lies ahead in the world of education.

"I've learned more here in one month than I learned in all the classes I've taken," Licata said.

Her favorite part of interacting with the students is listening to what they have to say, and establishing relationships with them, she said.

Schaefer said the most rewarding part was seeing how much the IPS students had learned in her first grade class.

"Before we started reading, the children did not know most words," Schaefer said. "When they did learn, they were so excited. It gives you a good feeling."


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