Each year, students in Clark University’s master of arts in teaching program tour the Main South neighborhood where they will do their practicums. High school students from the neighborhood lead the tour so the student teachers can begin to develop an understanding of Main South from those who are growing up there.
The notion that teachers need a deep appreciation for the social and physical environment of their students seems like a no-brainer. But until recently, that knowledge has not been included in most teacher-preparation programs.
Preparing high school students for college is hard enough in high-end suburban schools and elite private academies, but many educators have considered it nearly unattainable for students growing up in neighborhoods characterized by poverty, crime, overcrowding, high drop-out rates, and language diversity. Teacher preparation integrated into robust community partnerships increases the chances those students can achieve college readiness, according to the new book “Partnership and Powerful Teacher Education: Growth and Challenge in an Urban Neighborhood Program,” edited by Thomas Del Prete, director of Clark University’s Adam Institute for Urban Teaching and School Practice and Master of Arts in Teaching program.
In addition to Del Prete, Department of Education faculty who contribute chapters are associate professors of practice Letina Jeranyama, Carmen Ocón, Heather L. Roberts, and Raphael Rogers, professor of practice Holly Dolan, and associate professor Jie Park. Also contributing are program administrator Andrea Allen and Kyle Pahigian ’06, MAT ’07, mathematics teacher at University Park Campus School.
Del Prete and his colleagues tell the inspiring story of how Clark’s MAT program has become a national model for educating teachers who pursue social equity and justice through their careers. Clark’s is the only teacher-preparation program to have earned “approval with distinction” from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Paul Reveille, former Massachusetts secretary of education and current Francis Keppel Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the book “paints a picture of the craft and complexity of developing high quality teachers while galvanizing a university, an urban school system and a disadvantaged neighborhood to make common cause for children.”
The key to the program’s success, according to Del Prete, are the partnerships, built across schools and within the community, that help teachers identify and embrace the challenges and strengths their students bring to the educational experience.
Over the past quarter century, concern has arisen “that schools of education haven’t been as relevant and impactful as they need to be,” Del Prete says. “In an attempt to address these concerns, a paradigm shift is slowly taking place in the way teacher education has been approached, moving from a university-based model to one that is school-partnership and practice-based, and, finally, to a more community-based model.”
The partnership between Clark’s MAT program and the Main South neighborhood is just one aspect of a larger initiative. The University Park Neighborhood Restoration Partnership was established in 1995 as a collaboration between Clark, the Main South Community Development Corporation, the city of Worcester, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with the goal of “reducing the physical and social deterioration” of the neighborhood. The establishment two years later of the University Park Campus School provided an incubator for the development of a community-based approach to teacher education. Many student teachers not only completed their practicums at UPCS, but, inspired by the vision of “The School with a Promise,” returned to the school as fully fledged educators to teach Main South students and mentor the next generation of Clark MATs to share the same vision.
UPCS became a nationally recognized success that validated a new community-based model of teaching. Serving approximately 250 lottery-selected students in grades 7 to 12, UPCS boasts a 100 percent graduation rate. Ninety-nine percent of its graduates attend a two- or four-year college.
“What we’ve done is dissolve the boundaries between Clark, UPCS, and the neighborhood. It feels natural for the [UPCS] kids to be here,” says Del Prete, an original and continuing member of the University Park Campus School steering committee. In “Partnership and Powerful Teacher Education,” he writes: “We strive in the teacher preparation program to understand and relate to the students’ points of view, to see and relate to students fully as they are.”
Del Prete readily admits that establishing a community-based model in areas with underperforming schools is no small task. “You need folks in both the school and teacher education program who will ask, ‘What’s it going to take to make this commitment? How do we make sure that we all feel good about it and benefit from it?’
“It’s such rewarding, amazing work. I’ve been enriched immeasurably by the process, as hard as it has been. It’s pretty incredible to see what happens with the kids, and what they bring and the challenges they overcome. We are all transformed.”