Once August rolls around, a collective groan can be heard from students across the country that can only mean one thing: the start of school is almost upon us. Students ranging from the ages of six to approximately 23 gather their new notebooks, folders, pens and pencils and prepare for that first day back: meeting teachers, finding classes and making friends. For some students, it’s a dreaded day; for others, college students namely, ‘Syllabus Week’ is their last hoorah before the real work starts.
With Millersville being known for their fabulous education programs, many professional block education students are preparing for their long-awaited semesters of student teaching. A select 16, however, have already found themselves in their placements through a program called the Anchored Placement Program. This program, established in the Elementary/Early Childhood Education department in 2009 by Dr. Marcia Nell, allows Millersville students to participate in a year-long clinical experience in which they are in the classroom the full school year instead of just one semester.
Central York School District is the only participating school district as of right now, but the program will hopefully be expanded to include other districts in the future. “It’s a fabulous district,” Dr. Nell said of Central York. “They do model what it truly does mean to be a standards-based school. They didn’t have these knee-jerk reactions to the legislation and say ‘Ok, we’ll settle for mediocre and just put teacher manuals in teachers’ hands.’ They really value the teachers’ professionalism and provide them with all the support they need so the teachers are effective in the classroom. Where teacher and student interact: they support that relationship. It’s a model district. They do those things that research has shown to be effective.”
Alysha Staggers, 20, a senior Elementary Education major, has been placed in Mrs. Jodie Lauber’s first grade classroom at Roundtown Elementary School. Staggers is a 2010 graduate of Central York High School and completed all her schooling within the district, so she was very excited when she first heard about the program. “Central York is my home district so any chance I had at getting a placement there, I was definitely going to take advantage of,” said Staggers. “I absolutely loved growing up in Central York and I take such pride in that district. The resources there are incredible, and the staff is just so friendly and always willing to help. I knew that Central York was an amazing district and I would be so lucky to get to spend my senior year learning from the people and students there.”
Students interested in the program fill out an application which is then reviewed by Dr. Nell and other faculty in the department, the principals of the elementary schools and the volunteer cooperating teachers. The first year Dr. Nell ran the program, five students took part. The number of students that can participate depends on how many cooperating teachers are available and willing to take part. This year, only 16 students were selected from 20 applicants.
Staggers went above and beyond the call of duty and has been helping her teacher since the summer months. “I went in over the summer to help set up her room and she was just so welcoming and sweet and made me feel like part of the school community. She gave me a tour and introduced me to everyone so I felt very comfortable. I think she is so organized and creative and absolutely hilarious, and I am learning so much from her.”
The program is divided into two semesters. The first semester, the Millersville students take their methods courses on campus and then are also in the classroom a full day every Friday for 12 weeks. The last three weeks of the semester, all professional block education students are in their placement five full days a week. The second semester, the students are in the classroom every day for their student teaching placement. Dr. Nell said that although the students are only in one day a week for the first 12 weeks, they are encouraged to participate in classroom activities as much as possible as opposed to just observing.
Dr. Nell said her previous experience with the program has been very good. She finds it very beneficial for the Millersville students as a way to gain even more experience in an actual classroom. “They work with the same group of children so they get to see the children change over the year,” she said. “They get to see how teaching and learning really does impact the way children function in the world. But it also gives them this relationship with the teacher so they get all of this mentoring. It really provides them with a full experience.”
The program also helps prepare the students more for when they graduate and find a job. “The way schools are today, the expectation is that a new teacher walks in that classroom ready to go,” said Dr. Nell. “There are so many questions that can’t be answered from a college campus standpoint; they need to be in the classroom. This program provides them with that connection between theory, which we cover here at campus, and application with real children.”
Staggers mentioned that a benefit to this program as opposed to a typical student teaching placement is that she will already be assimilated into the classroom when she goes in full time. “I think a huge benefit of this program is knowing your students coming into student teaching,” she said. “While it may be scary to be thinking about that already, I’ll be coming into student teaching already knowing my cooperating teacher, all of the students, the daily schedule, the routines and the classroom management systems. I feel like I’ll have an advantage over the other student teachers who are just starting and just entering their classrooms for the first time in January. Also, because I’ve been there since the beginning, the students will also know that I know all of the rules and routines and they will hopefully see me as a teacher from the start, rather than just a new adult in the room.
Staggers’ cooperating teacher, Mrs. Lauber also agrees. She said as of right now, she hasn’t had Staggers up in front of the classroom leading discussions yet, so she hasn’t interacted with the class as a whole entity yet. So far she has been doing more one-on-one work with the students, but they definitely recognize her presence. “They do realize when she’s not here and they ask where she is,” Mrs. Lauber said. She likes having another set of hands in the classroom and thinks the program is beneficial for those college students participating in it. “I’ve been told the people coming for the Anchored Placement Program are the best of the best. They have been willing to come in before school started, help set up in the classroom; they wanted to be here as much as possible.”
With the start of the 2013-2014 school year already in full swing, students participating in this program are already getting valuable classroom time, which is perhaps one of the most beneficial aspects of the Anchored Placement Program. It is no doubt an experience that will shape the course of their teaching careers and set them on a path for success. “It provides our students with the application piece,” said Dr. Nell. “The things they’re talking about in their methods courses, the things they’re reading about in their methods textbooks, they can go out into the classroom and see it being applied, and that is a richness you can’t get any other way.”