UTAP apprentices get to know Philly — and its libraries — by working with local families this summer

July 25, 2022
a Penn GSE apprentice teaches kids

For incoming students in the Urban Teaching Apprenticeship Program (UTAP), the school year starts in July. Not to worry – summer isn't spoiled with assignments and readings, but instead with a jumpstart curriculum based on getting to know Philly and getting to know each other.

The UTAP apprentices hit the ground running by working with children at three public libraries. Providing enrichment activities that connect reading, math, and making children’s books, they focus on hands-on practice — a hallmark of the program. For the apprentices from places like New York, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., this on-the-ground and immersive experience sets the tone for the academic year.

"The hope is to ground them in the community, to get to know families and young people through a community-based activity," said Tawanna Jones Morrison, the associate director of UTAP. "This will build their background knowledge about Philly and what we have going on here."

The students earn a Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) and a Pennsylvania teaching certification. Their course of study prepares them for teaching in urban areas, which present their own host of advantages and challenges compared to suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas.

The students and families meet up in local libraries, which calls attention to the vital services these institutions provide for urban kids. "As a teacher, you should know what’s happening at your local library, and potentially what resources your library has for your students and their families," Jones said. At the same time, it spotlights an educational justice issue: despite their importance, urban libraries are typically under-funded. (For example, many libraries in Philadelphia don't have morning hours in the summer, and thus couldn’t host this program.)

Besides working with local families, the summer program prioritizes relationship-building among the new students. The cohort meets on its own to talk shop and talk life. It's only a one-year program, but the relational aspect of teaching is central to the job, so UTAP embeds this teambuilding into the curriculum.

Nurturing this relational aspect of teaching is part of maintaining a committed teacher workforce. Resignations surged by 200 percent in Philadelphia over the past year. Teaching isn't easy, and "summers off" doesn't always mean you're off in the summer. Jones says that seasoned teachers often stay in their jobs not because it's easy, but because they have networks of support. This could mean they had people who helped them set expectations from the start, or who helped out when times got tough or things went sideways. Teachers hired during the pandemic don’t always have that support.

Beyond this summer and after this school year, UTAP alumni are able to come back and network with each other. "Even if you don’t find your tribe right away," said Jones, "you know that you will always have a tribe at UTAP.”

Top image: Nora Boles, UTAP ’23, makes storybooks from construction paper with kids at Walnut Street West Library.