Crowded around a conference table on a gray winter afternoon, six excited fourth-grade girls marveled at the results of their hard work. In front of them sat the final copy of the Linx Press, a newspaper the Valley View elementary students developed with the help of two Heritage University students who were completing their practicum before starting their student-teaching experience.
The project was part of a 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school enrichment program funded by the US Department of Education. The program aims to improve academic performance for school children through after-school activities that support core subjects like math and reading. Heritage University and the Toppenish School District have been partnering on the district's grant-funded activities for than 15 years.
As part of their training heritage education majors participate in a semester-long reaching practicum before starting their co-teaching experience (known commonly as student teaching). The students work in teams of two doing everything from developing lesson lans and structuring their classrooms to measuring student success and outcomes. The partnership through 21st Century provides the perfect mechanism for future teachers to apply what they have been learning in a real-life setting, while giving elementary school children the chance to thrive in a safe after-school environment that supports their classroom learning.
“This is a really valuable experience,” said Pam Root, assistant professor of Education and Psychology, who supervises the ollege students through their practicum. “Many of the Heritage students have experience working in the schools—some were paraeducators— but this is the first time they get to be the teacher, and there’s a big difference. The practicum helps them go into co-teaching with confidence.”
Guerrero and fellow student Maria Ortiz entered into their practicum requesting to teach the fourth-grade group. The school selected the project-based learning topic of journalism and photography to support their academic goals for the children. The curriculum, however, was planned by the Heritage teachers in training. The pair took their students through exercises in which they reviewed professional papers for content and layout. They had their students brainstorm names for the publication, develop story ideas, conduct interviews and write articles. They even developed their own comic strips.
During the project, professionals in the communications field, such as a reporter from the local weekly newspaper and a public relations professional from the university, also visited. It helped demonstrate to students that the lessons they were learning could one day become a career.
Valley View Elementary kindergarten teacher Esperanza Paul (B.A., Education, 2006), who supervised the afterschool newspaper project, was impressed by
the value of the experience, not only for her elementary students, but also for the Heritage teachers in training.
“I think the practicum is a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “It gives a good sense of how it’s going to be to actually teach. I wish I had done something like that when I was at Heritage. The more time you spend in a classroom, the more comfortable you become.”
“We had a great time with the students,” said Heritage senior Edelmira Guerrero. “Because this was a small group, we really got to know them. We had a lot of fun putting the newspaper together and the kids really seemed to enjoy the whole experience.”
At the end of the semester, just a few days before Guerrero and Ortiz said goodbye to the “staff” of the Linx Press, the students sat admiring their handiwork. As they finished looking through their newspaper, Guerrero placed a group of small stuffed animals in the center of the table for one more lesson before parting ways.
“Let’s write a story about these guys,” she said. “Who are they? What are they doing? Where are they going?” Hands shot up around the table as eager voices began to tell the story.
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