Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

"College Is a Good Place to Go to Become What You Want to Become": A Collaboration between Liberal Arts Undergraduates and Urban Middle School Students

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

"College Is a Good Place to Go to Become What You Want to Become": A Collaboration between Liberal Arts Undergraduates and Urban Middle School Students

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the United States, there is a pressing need to bridge the divide between the higher education institutions where teachers are prepared and the school sites where they work with students (e.g., McDiarmid & Clevenger-Bright, 2008; Zeichner, 2003). Linking the theoretical foundations of teacher education programs with practical experience in K-12 classrooms offers future teachers the fundamental opportunity to learn both in and from practice, developing a stance of inquiry about their teaching (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999). These collaborations are particularly critical for urban classrooms where the cultural backgrounds and communication patterns of students so often differ from the predominantly mono-cultural body of future educators (Banks, et al., 2005; Haberman, 1996) and where schools struggle to retain a stable corps of highly-qualified teachers (Ingersoll, 2001; Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002). Moreover, with growing national interest in alternative certification routes (Zeichner & Conklin, 2005), it is increasingly important that higher education and K-12 collaborations reach all prospective teachers, those currently enrolled in teacher education programs as well as liberal arts undergraduates contemplating teaching at some point in their professional future. While there are a plethora of opportunities for post-graduate students to engage in teacher preparation within urban contexts (e.g., Berry, Montgomery, & Snyder, 2008; Veltri, 2008; Villegas & Clewell, 1998), few opportunities exist for undergraduates interested in urban education to explore the field, particularly those students enrolled at residential, liberal arts institutions located far from urban areas.

This article reports on the development, implementation, and outcomes of a partnership between Garrett College, a highly-selective private liberal arts college, and Worthington Charter School, a public K-8 charter school in Baltimore, Maryland. (1) This partnership, which was initiated in 2007, launched the first of an annual series of College and Career Institutes for middle school students in the spring of 2009. (2) Building upon the strong foundation of prior school-university partnerships in the form of Professional Development Schools (PDS), service-learning programs, and teacher education fieldwork, this collaboration was constructed around a notion of shared ownership, in which college students and middle school students were equally engaged in the construction of mutually beneficial learning experiences. Through research into the experiences of both groups of students, we find changed perspectives and strong relationships resulting from participation, each mediated by the individual's background and prior perspectives. We conclude that there is considerable value in bringing together individuals from disparate backgrounds as co-owners in a meaningful and joint educational endeavor.

The Partnership

This partnership, jointly developed over the course of two years by Garrett College and Worthington Charter School administrators, faculty, and students, aimed to bring together college and middle school students with the goal of better understanding the realities of urban schooling for the former and the college experience for the latter. This program was grounded in prior notions about high-quality urban teacher preparation, including participation in meaningful tasks, dialogue, and mutual engagement (e.g., Oakes, Franke, Quartz, & Rogers, 2002). Moreover, it accepted the notion that legitimate peripheral participation, as both students and teachers, can lead to fuller participation and even identity development (e.g., Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998).

The long-term, shared, and iterative task of determining student needs and researching possible structures ultimately resulted in the creation of the College and Career Institute, a week-long after-school program in which Garrett undergraduates developed interactive curricula to teach Worthington Charter School 6th, 7th, and 8th graders about the need for higher education, college life, and the practicalities of identifying, applying to, and funding college. …

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