Building Partnerships to Prepare Teachers for Urban Schools: The Case of Houghton College, AmeriCorps, the King Center Charter School, and Journey's End

Article excerpt

The 2006 Theme Issue focused on urban challenges. Guest editor Judit Szente located too many excellent articles on that important topic to include in one issue. Therefore, we present another article on that theme here.

Conditions in Buffalo, New York, parallel those in cities elsewhere across the United States. The public school population nears 75 percent children of color, with over 80 percent qualifying for the free or reduced-price lunch program--a primary indicator of poverty. In contrast, the teacher population, drawn almost exclusively from the middle class, is nearly 80 percent white. To counter this disparity, colleges and universities in the region found it essential to recruit more minority students into teacher preparation programs, as well as to redesign teacher education programs, in order to prepare all prospective teachers to work with poor, inner-city children. The following article chronicles our work in these areas while also offering preservice teachers and school personnel the opportunity to share their experiences. In addition, the article highlights various ways to build community partnerships and programs, in the hope that readers will be inspired to create similar collaborations within their environments.

HOUGHTON COLLEGE AND ITS URBAN EDUCATION PROGRAM

Houghton College, a small, four-year, liberal arts college in rural Allegany County in New York, may be an unlikely institution to respond to the challenge of preparing teachers for urban schools. Its student population of 1,250 comes mainly from small towns and rural communities. The college, however, is committed to training teachers who are both highly prepared for and devoted to serving the needs of diverse children and families.

Ten years ago, in response to increasing urbanization in the United States and the relative isolation of its rural campus, the college began requiring its teacher education students to take a course focusing on teaching in urban schools. This was the first course of its kind for higher education institutions in western New York. The required course, Teaching in Urban America, is now recommended for the May term following the sophomore year of study. The course also includes a 60-hour field placement in a Buffalo, New York, school. Over the past decade, nearly 600 students have participated in this course, experiencing life at an urban school.

During this field placement, each Houghton student works all day for 10 days as an assistant to one or two classroom teachers. In this capacity, the student does tutoring, monitoring, small-group instruction, or performs whatever job the teacher determines will be helpful. In exchange, the student gains a realistic perspective on teaching and on the life of an urban school. For most students, this is the first field experience in their teacher education program. At the conclusion of this experience, students who remain interested in the possibility of teaching in an urban school are encouraged to consider student teaching in the city of Buffalo. Although most students enter the course convinced that they would never teach in an urban setting, approximately 25 percent of the students do choose an urban student teaching placement.

Although the program was an immediate success, it quickly became clear that simple exposure is not enough to adequately prepare students to work with poor and minority children in urban settings. Furthermore, educators realized that a small rural college could never succeed at this task unless they formed strategic partnerships with various community agencies and urban schools.

COMMUNITY PARTNERS AND PROGRAMS

In 2001, Houghton College received a generous grant from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, which enabled the college to clarify its needs and explore appropriate responses. Over the years, Houghton College formed essential partnerships with a number of community-based agencies and urban schools to add to the existing urban course work. …