Incoming students in Penn GSE’s Teacher Education Program (TEP) get a unique jumpstart on their learning. Each July during summer session, master’s students spread out across Philadelphia to serve as teaching apprentices in community-based organizations in the neighborhoods where they will be student teaching in the fall.
One partnership site is the White Rock Baptist Church Summer Enrichment Program in the heart of West Philadelphia. This summer, seven Penn GSE students worked with children ages 3–15 during the six-week program that tackles both summer hunger and the summer academic slump.
The apprentices got a frontline view of how this community’s children think and learn, as they helped facilitate activities ranging from basketball, swimming, and gardening to reading, mathematics, and engineering.
Reflecting on her internship this summer, master’s student Lynette Kehoe said, “I was welcomed readily into the community. I am so grateful to have gotten the chance to get to know the kids, and spending time with them was always the highlight of my week.” Kehoe is student teaching at Henry C. Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia this year.
Molly Ryan, a master’s student who will be student teaching in a Penn Alexander kindergarten classroom this fall, agreed. “The entire community at White Rock was friendly and open towards us strangers who were coming in for a short period of time to work with their children. I hope to go back for some of their events throughout the year, to visit with my students and see how they are growing.”
The Penn GSE Teacher Education Program prepares students to work in high-needs contexts. Students spend twice the average time student teaching compared to the average teacher education program. The method works. In a recent survey, 92 percent of graduates took jobs in urban or high-needs contexts in the first year after graduation.
TEP’s partnership with White Rock began through a connection with John Fantuzzo, Albert M. Greenfield Professor of Human Relations at Penn GSE. Fantuzzo has been an active member of the church for years and currently serves as a deacon. Two years ago, the directors of the summer program invited Fantuzzo to work with them to build the program from a basic summer feeding program into a summer enrichment program complete with certified teachers and a purposeful curriculum. When Fantuzzo realized the TEP program was looking for additional summer sites, it seemed a natural fit to involve TEP students as teaching apprentices at White Rock.
What makes the TEP summer session so valuable is the opportunity to learn about students in their communities rather than just at school. “What we see out of these teaching apprenticeships is our GSE students gaining an understanding of children in Philadelphia neighborhoods…how they play, what they do, what they’re interested in, and what’s going on in their neighborhoods,” said NancyLee Bergey, associate director of the Teacher Education Program. “Our focus is on all of the things that children can do: negotiate friendships, play together in an organized way, ask great questions, and create.”
For educators, getting to know a community is not something that can be learned from a textbook or a web search. “Most of our teaching apprentices come from outside of the West Philadelphia community. One way we provide them with the opportunity to play an authentic role in the community is to have experiences with small, local, community-based organizations,” said Kate Kinney-Grossman, director of the Teacher Education Program.
Jenna Ellis, a master’s student focusing on middle years teaching at Lea Elementary, appreciated the chance to learn more about the children who attend West Philadelphia’s schools. “In my class of eight students at White Rock, there were seven West Philly schools represented,” said Ellis. “I was delighted to see how the students came together through the program and made new friends from different schools,” Ellis continued. “I enjoyed noticing the differences in how students think of school.”
Ellis also found that meeting the teachers in the White Rock program was educational for her. She explained, “The teachers for the program are mostly retired teachers who worked in the district, so it was rewarding to speak with them about their experience.”
Another master’s student, Clare Lee, shared Ellis’s enthusiasm. "I learned so much at White Rock Baptist Church,” Lee said. “Going in, some of the children weren't able to read grade-level books, but after a couple weeks, through their determination, they improved so much more than I could ever imagine.” In preparation for her student teaching placement with a kindergarten class at Lea Elementary this year, Lee valued the chance to work in the community over the summer. “It was my first time working with students in the West Philly area, and I am so glad that it was with these students."
In addition to the summer apprenticeships, TEP students are assigned an in-depth study of the neighborhood. Rather than focusing on the challenges of a neighborhood, their studies look at the central assets and strengths that are important to the people who live in the community. “The more you know about children’s lives and the communities they live in, the better able you are to teach them,” said Kinney-Grossman.
Other summer internship sites include the Penn Futures Partnership at GEAR UP, in Kensington, a summer bridge program for rising ninth graders; the Fishtown Recreation Center in Fishtown; the Migrant Education Program in South Philadelphia; Leaders of Change at the Netter Center, for graduates of West Philadelphia high schools who are headed to college; the Upward Bound math and science program at Penn, which serves students from many high schools in West Philadelphia; St. James the Less middle school program in the North Philadelphia; and Sheridan K-4 school in Kensington.
Regarding the summer internship sites across Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, Kinney-Grossman appreciates the educational opportunity they provide. “We have been so pleased that our apprentices can play a helping role in the summer programs, and at the same time, we understand that the partnerships give us far more in return.”