More time in schools, more support: Teacher training gets $6 million

Teacher training at 15 Wichita schools is about to get a little more like "Grey's Anatomy."

A five-year, $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will establish professional development schools — often compared to teaching hospitals, the setting for ABC's popular medical drama — where education majors will work alongside mentor teachers and professors to learn about teaching in urban classrooms.

"This will transform the way we train our students, the way we educate our student teachers," said Sharon Iorio, dean of Wichita State University's College of Education, which was awarded the grant last week.

"Our students will be spending much more time in the school system, and there will be a learning community that supports them."

The grant also will create a teacher residency program in early-childhood education — the first of its kind in Kansas.

The grant was one of 28 awarded Friday as part of the federal stimulus. It will help expand WSU's Urban Teacher Preparation Program, a partnership between the university and Wichita public schools.

The program seeks to prepare teachers to work in high-need schools, which generally have a large percentage of low-income students and high turnover rates among teachers.

"We were trying to do it on a shoestring on our own, and we were spread so thin," Iorio said. "Then with budget cuts, it got really, really difficult.

"Now (with the grant), we can ... do it right."

WSU education students already work in classrooms as part of co-op programs and perform traditional student teaching stints, normally during their final semesters of college.

Under the new program, students "will spend much more time in the school system," Iorio said. "And that time will be more focused, more concentrated.

"Our faculty members will be there (in the schools) at least once a week," compared with about four times a year, the current standard, Iorio said.

Fifteen elementaries are involved in the initiative: Anderson, Caldwell, Cessna, Chisholm Trail, Cloud, College Hill, Dodge, Earhart, Enterprise, Irving, L'Ouverture, Mueller, OK, Pleasant Valley and White. Three secondary schools — North High, Hadley and Marshall middle schools — also will participate.

The professional development schools, or PDSs, will operate much like teaching hospitals: Teacher candidates will learn about teaching and what to teach at the university; they'll learn how to teach in schools, with plenty of help from principals, mentor teachers and professors.

Nedra Bradshaw, a 22-year-old WSU student who hopes to teach fourth grade someday, said the new program sounds like an effective way to give prospective teachers a taste of real-life teaching.

"It's the only way to get a good picture of what you'll be doing day-to-day," she said. "Having more of a support network would help."

Bradshaw, who recently started student teaching at L'Ouverture Elementary, led first-graders in a lesson on skip-counting last week, using dimes, nickels and pennies.

She spent more than two years at Anderson Elementary as part of WSU's cooperative teaching program, and says she knows she wants to teach in a high-need, urban setting.

"This is where I want to be," Bradshaw said. "You see so much more progress at (urban) schools. There's so much learning going on. ... I feel privileged to be part of it."

In a nearby classroom, Lindsey Lander led a first-grade lesson on counting with tally marks. She was watched, coached and encouraged by Michelle Foster, her mentor teacher.

"I like how Lamaria is being quiet," Lander told the class, smiling. "But she has her thumbs up so I know she's ready to move on.... Good job, Priscila. Great work, Tyrese."

Iorio, the university dean, said this year will be a "development year" for the program. But families with children in participating schools might see differences right away.

"There will be a lot more adults ... in those schools every day," she said. "There will be a continuity there and a community, so we're not just that helicopter jumping into a school for a little while."

Janice Smith, executive director of the Opportunity Project preschools, praised the grant's focus on early childhood.

As part of the new residency program, students will work as paraprofessionals in early-childhood classrooms while working on their degrees. When they graduate, they will be certified to teach early childhood or early childhood special education.

"It's crucial," Smith said. "We are extremely short on teachers in general, and specifically early childhood. ... Being able to attract those people who have the aptitude and interest and nurture them along, that's great."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle