Byline: PATTI LEVINE-BROWN
When Southsider Michael Ebanks walked into the first-grade classroom at Pine Estates Elementary School, the youngsters immediately gathered around him.
Their excitement was building. The wait was over. The familiar face that has been with them since August was ready to begin speaking. A couple of eager pupils raised their hands, and questions were posed even before the lesson started.
Ebanks, a University of North Florida education major, smiled, walked over to a small chair, sat down and opened a large story book resting on a giant easel. All eyes in the room were on him as he began to speak.
The children were focused and, as the story progressed, Ebanks continually interjected a number of engaging questions. Ebanks handled the lesson with ease. He appeared much more like a seasoned teacher than a first-year intern -- and that is exactly what those supervising the program he is in want to see.
Pine Estates is one of the newest schools to become part of the Urban Professional Development School Partnership between UNF and the public school system. The program focuses on helping student interns better adjust and understand the urban school setting.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for students like me," said Ebanks, who described the program as textbook style accompanied by real-world experience. "The program is all about helping interns become the best they can be. I have walked a path guided by support."
The Partnership Program is designed to work with urban schools serving students of diverse backgrounds. Schools are selected for a three-year cycle. Other new schools selected for the program this year include Lake Shore Middle and North Shore Elementary schools. Two elementary schools, West Jacksonville and Woodland Acres, are continuing as partners.
"The doors to these schools are open to UNF students even before they are interns," said Kathy Witzel with Duval County Public Schools. "The program is like a big learning lab."
Witzel said students who want to intern in a Professional Development School must apply and be accepted. For some, it's a new experience..
"Most of our interns live across town and have never had a lot of exposure to schools in the urban setting," Witzel said. "A couple of them had never been over the bridge before they became part of this program."
Pine Estates Principal Violetra Ward said the kind of training the interns receive through the partnership program will transfer into higher academic achievement for the students in her school.
"I want to create a true learning community at Pine Estates, and I have seen what this program has done for other schools," Ward said. "Research has shown that this kind of training produces good teachers, and that will result in raising the academic achievement of our students."
Cathy O'Farrell, field experiences director for UNF's College of Education and Human Services, said UNF students who intern in professional development schools become prepared to work effectively in urban schools.
"The opportunity to intern at a [Professional Development School] with its high degree of on-site support has prepared prospective teachers for the types of challenging experiences they might encounter as they enter the profession," O'Farrell said. "Because these students have had successful experiences in urban settings, many will return to an urban setting as a beginning teacher. …