Bethlehem and Easton Area Urban Practicum 2012
Sixty-three BU students recently completed what many of them considered to be a life-changing experience while also having the opportunity to teach and observe in real classrooms. From May 14 to 24, these graduate and undergraduate students from the College of Education took part in the 2012 Urban Practicum in Bethlehem Pennsylvania.
For two weeks, these students were in kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms across the Bethlehem and Easton Area school districts in one of five different area schools including Marvine Elementary School, Paxinosa Elementary School, Fountain Hill Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary School and Broughal Middle School.
Many of the students stayed at the beautiful Lehigh University during the two-week period, which is located near many of the schools that the students were placed. The students spent the entire day in the classroom and then had the opportunity to hear professionals in the field of education discuss different topics at meetings after school. The weekend was busy for the students as well. They took part in community service activities and visited other popular and educational locations in the area.
All of the elementary schools and middle schools that the students were participating in had a very large minority population. Latino students were the most prevalent, followed by African-American and Caucasian students, respectively. Along with the diverse racial make-up of the schools, a very high percentage of students were considered to be of low socioeconomic status.
Diversity in the classroom
A large majority of students throughout all of the schools represented qualified for free or reduced lunches and may have had challenging home lives as well. Teaching and mentoring students who may not be able to afford quality food or have necessary resources for school, poses unique challenges to teachers and schools. All of the students placed in the elementary and middle schools within Easton and Bethlehem School Districts had the opportunity to work alongside a cooperating teacher to gain a better understanding of the unique and often difficult situations urban schools and students face on a daily basis. As elementary education majors the students even had the chance to teach lessons in their classrooms while being mentored by experienced teachers in the Bethlehem or Easton School District.
After each day in the classroom the students had the opportunity to hear from various education professionals from throughout the Lehigh Valley. Within just the first five days of the practicum they had heard presentations from the superintendents and assistant superintendents of Easton and Bethlehem School Districts, elementary principals, and various minority affairs leaders within the Lehigh Valley.
Presentations in the first week covered a wide range of material, from special education to the importance of creating positive relationships with students. It was clear that each presenter was a professional and took great pride in their schools and careers. In the second week the students heard from Math Supervisors from Easton School District, a “beginning teacher panel”, and the assistant principal at Nazareth Area Middle School.
The presentations this week consisted of math specific instruction in an elementary setting, a question and answer session with new teachers in Easton School District, and methods to become a great teacher and make a difference. All of these presentations centered on the idea that it takes hard work to become a highly effective teacher but it can be done. The students learned about the struggle of new teachers as well as the struggles a school district faces from the pressure of high stakes standardized testing.
Learning about the community
The students also had many opportunities outside of the school setting to learn about the community. They attended a Catholic Mass that was spoken entirely in Spanish at Holy Infancy Church in downtown Bethlehem, the DaVinci Science Center, a Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs baseball game, and a Latino dinner provided by the Latino Center in Bethlehem. All of these events were unique but still gave every student the chance to see the communities in a new light.
The Catholic Mass was a way for the students to be completely engulfed in the Spanish language and gain a better understanding of what English language learners experience when trying to comprehend English in schools. The DaVinci Center showed ways to incorporate educational field trips into current curriculum in a meaningful way. The Puerto Rican dinner and speaker was very beneficial because it helped the students experience the culture and food of a place that many students we were teaching were born in. Experiencing Latino culture was a very important part of this Urban Practicum and hearing the language and eating authentic Latino food was a great way to gain that experience.
The students in the practicum were constantly busy taking part in many activities, planning lessons and doing other class work. Even during the weekend, the students had a packed schedule with one of the main focuses of the practicum being the community service and yard sale that took place on Saturday, May 19. Many of the students brought clothes and other items from their homes to sell at yard sales at all of the different schools and the Latino Center in Bethlehem which provided them an opportunity to meet Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan who thanked the students for their efforts on behalf of the community.
Several students spent time during the week before the yard sale folding and sorting all of the clothes and items so they could be distributed to the different schools and the Latino Center to be sold. The students volunteered their time to run these yard sales on Saturday morning. All of the proceeds were donated back to the schools and the Latino Center.
In all, the students were able to donate close to $850 back to the schools and Latino Center. While the yard sale was taking place, some of the guys on the Practicum were busy helping out at the Latino Center organizing and cleaning out many rooms and basements which the Center has plans to turn into a food bank to help the surrounding area.