Education division makes new changes

Sean Sauro, Managing Editor

Striving to maintain a goal of improved teacher education and job-market readiness, Pitt-Johnstown Education Division leaders have pursued changes in their programs.

One such change, a partnership between Pitt-Johnstown and neighboring Richland School District, has come into effect this term, Education Division Chair Jacob Easley II said.

Easley said the partnership and accompanying changes will be a benefit to the program and its students.

“I don’t think colleges of education can do a really good job at preparing good teachers or impact the profession without partnering with a school district,” he said.

Senior education students specializing in early-childhood education previously split their semester student-teaching seven weeks at one institution before switching to seven at another, Easley said.

The partnership, however, will allow participating students to remain in the same institution— Richland Elementary School— for an entire semester.

“The students have a primary classroom and mentor teacher, but they also have a supporting mentor in another classroom at a different grade level,” Easley said.

“That way, they get to see multiple students at multiple grade levels in the same school.”

Several participating senior education students said they are happy with the partnership and that they find the experience academically enriching.

One such student, Jennifer Jones, said, though the program was met with some apprehension, her experience has been positive.

“A lot of people were under the impression that they’d be limited,” she said, “but we’ve been exposed to multiple classrooms and experiences. I have nothing negative to say.”

Senior education student Samantha Davis said spending an entire term at the same institution has given her a more realistic outlook when it comes to teaching.

“It’s more similar to how it will be when you get a job,” Davis said. “I feel more like a part of the school community.”

Kathleen Bango, also a senior education student, said she made the right choice in entering the program and recommends it to others thinking of entering the field.

“I’ve had an amazing experience,” she said. “I would, 100 times, pick this method again.”

Along with student benefits, Easley said the partnership will allow for improved student evaluation.

Previously, student teachers were evaluated by minimal professor observation coupled with a mentor teacher’s suggested grade, Easley said, but the new system allows for increased student observation by professors.

“As faculty, we are in the classroom with the students and their mentors every week,” he said, “and there will be at least two three-way discussions between the university adviser, the mentor and the (student teacher).”

Monthly meetings with mentor teachers, the school principal and the school superintendent also are to be held, he said.

“We make sure we are meeting the needs of both institutions,” Easley said. “This is a relationship we are building as we are rolling it out.”

Richland School District Superintendent Thomas Fleming said he sees the partnership as mutually beneficial for the district and Pitt-Johnstown.

“The partnership will allow for the development of a routine,” he said. “It will benefit our students because of the extended time spent with a single student teacher.”

He said the close proximity to Pitt-Johnstown has allowed for easy transition into the partnership.

“This is really just expanding on the partnership we already had with Pitt-Johnstown,” Fleming said. “We hope to continue to grow our relationship and partnership.”

Though the partnership has provided a significant change this semester, it is not the only collaborative program presented to education students this year.

Easley said a five-year master’s program has been set up in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh main campus.

Mid-level and early-childhood education students interested in enrolling in a special-education master’s program can apply during their junior year, Easley said.

Students accepted are to be able to begin online classes their senior year and would then begin the program the following summer, he said.

While this program has been advertised internally, Easley said it has yet to be advertised through the admissions office.

“We hope to be (advertising) by fall 2014,” he said.

In addition to these programs, administrators said they are looking to add a special-education, dual-certification program.

The program is to offer training in autism and applied behavioral analysis at the early childhood and middle level in English and mathematics, as well as science and social studies, Easley said.

Also, the program is to offer a yearlong student-teaching period instead of the average 14-week period.

He said the additional program was taken into consideration due to interests expressed by prospective students during the admissions process, as well as observed national trends.

Along with maintaining national trends, Easley said he thinks the program will be a benefit to participating students.

“By graduating from a program that not only provides dual-certification but also provides a full-year internship, students will increase their job marketability.”

Easley said the program is to provide stronger classroom-management skills and teacher practices.

“All of our students have to demonstrate the ability to positively impact students before graduating,” he said.

Though Easley said he believes the program will be an improvement, it has not yet been approved and is undergoing a review process.

He said a proposal has been drafted and has been approved by the Education Division, and the faculty senate.

The proposal needs to be approved by the Provost Admissions Committee in Undergraduate Programs before moving to the state level.

“Once it’s approved by the state, we can advertise it and begin admissions.”

Easley said state administrators predict students will be able to enroll in the program as early as fall 2014.

While students entering early-childhood and middle-level education will be eligible for dual certification, Easley said secondary education will not be offered immediately.

“This is uncharted territory we are headed into,” he said. “In order to offer secondary, we will have to see how the others work out.

“We do know the program will be slightly rigorous, so admission will be somewhat selective.”

Easley said he believes offering these differing teacher education programs will allow students to develop diverse teaching skills and marketability.

“In education, the belief is that there is no one approach that is right for all students,” he said. “Through differing methods, we can create a momentum in trying to figure out how to improve education.”