By Gerianne Wright
Cecilia Karutis has this binder. It’s full of learning and community-building activities, the kind that get students up and moving.
This fall, the childhood education major will use it as her playbook in the classroom as she joins Project CONNECT, a new after-school collaboration between the SUNY Plattsburgh teacher education program and the Plattsburgh City School District.
“Most kids, once they are out of school for the day, don't want to focus on doing more work,” said Karutis, a senior from Amsterdam, N.Y. “All they really want to do is play. My fellow students and I will have to incorporate ways of continuing to teach children but in a fun way.”
Project CONNECT picks up where the district’s expiring 21st Century after-school program left off. That program, funded for four years by a state grant, was designed to help the district close achievement gaps in elementary and middle school.
“One of the basic tenets of the grant was for schools to take this money, design a program and learn how to implement it so we could then carry on when the grant money dried up,” said James “Jake” Short, superintendent of Plattsburgh City Schools. “It’s not so easy, especially when we knew our school budget couldn’t afford to keep it going.”
The district sent out a request for proposals and “the college proposal came in very strong and was very exciting,” Short said.
“It allows for a laboratory for college students to have hands-on direct work with public school children,” Short continued. “The professors are able to be involved with our teachers on a closer basis. The college will have that much more of a partnership connection with the district.”
SUNY Plattsburgh has always enjoyed a close relationship with neighboring schools when it came to student teacher placement. In 2007, the teacher education program changed its field-placement component to encourage classroom experiences earlier in the program.
“It is highly stressful for teachers to allow first-year college students into their classroom,” said George Still, assessment and data manager for the college’s division of education, health and human services.
Project CONNECT gives teaching candidates more opportunity to practice early without generating additional stress.
A few, like Karutis, are already looking at activities and experiences they can bring to the program in the fall, said Dr. Jean Ann Hunt, associate professor and member of the Project CONNECT team.
Peer learning will also be part of the mix. First-year teaching candidates will be mentored by graduate students who already have teaching degrees and are going on for a master’s.
“That’s the piece that I love about this,” said Dr. Michael Morgan, dean of education, health and human services at SUNY Plattsburgh. “We’re having our students be able to engage in those kinds of mentoring experiences. It gives them the ability to be what they want to be when they graduate.”
Students in speech and hearing and special education, as well as those whose teacher education programs are specialized in areas such as math, science, language arts and foreign languages, will be able to participate.
“The college has a large number of ready-to-go graduate and undergraduate students who want to work with our kids,” Short said. “They need the access. We have the need. I can’t think of a better partnership.”
Read next story: Trail Mix.
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