Aug 28 2009

From a home-schooled Ashland, Ore. youth to a student from Seattle Girls school, Garfield High Schools’ incoming high school freshmen come from all types of educational institutions. Yet, they have one thing in common. Most simply aren’t prepared for the academic and personal challenges of high school, and consequently, struggle and often fail during their freshman year.

That’s begun to change. For the first time ever, last summer incoming Garfield 9th graders (about 85 students) learned the basics before school even began. Throughout the eight-week summer bridge program, they took six subjects, all designed to prepare them for freshmen year. These included, math, science, language arts, social studies, technology, and advisory skills, e.g. study skills, positive attitude, social networking, etc.

The support of Garfield principal Ted Howard, vice principal Lenora Lee, Bridge coordinator Amber Jenkins, and Garfield mentor teacher Adam Gish were critical. Jenkins, who runs the Urban Scholars program at Garfield, helped build the infrastructure for the bridge program. Her expertise with transitioning Garfield pre-freshmen into full-fledged students and her role as Urban Scholars coordinator educated Jenkins to the struggles that new freshmen encounter.

“Incoming freshmen often don’t do well the first year,” Jenkins explained. “They’re getting used to a new building, a larger school, social pressures, and more. [The bridge program] will ease the transition and help assimilate them to the culture and to the expectations of high school.”

“I think this program is extremely important because it’s addressing the problem of seeing a lack of success in freshmen,” Jenkins continued. “Even in [Urban Scholars] there are kids with tons of support that still struggle…By the time you get your footing on the ground, first semester has passed and you spend the next three years trying to pull those grades back up because, hopefully, you want to go on to college.”

Adam Gish, who has taught at Garfield for eight years, believes that the most important benefit for the high schoolers is an understanding of the Garfield culture and expectations. 

“Most importantly,” Gish asserts, “these young people have won a prize. They’ve won part of the beginning of the year, which might have been lost. They know the building, they know teachers by name and face, and they know some of what to expect in classes. This is an unbelievable gift for them and for us, the teachers.”

UW Teachers-in-Training Join In

As part of this program, the UW College of Education will provide teachers-in-training to support Garfield teachers with curriculum planning and implementation. These UW students will be mentoring Garfield students, supporting the Garfield teachers, and connecting this hands-on experience with their own professional development.

Throughout the eight-week span, the UW teachers in training will be on-site at Garfield high school. As Karen Mikolasy, the UW bridge program director, and Marisa Bier, the secondary teacher education program coordinator explain, they are coordinating UW teacher candidate engagement such that candidates have optimal involvement with Garfield students and add value to their experiences with learning about high school.  They want to make sure that they are not only helping these students make the transition to high school, but also gaining important insight as future teachers into the experiences of what it means to be a student and what challenges teachers face in meeting their needs.

As Marisa Bier, secondary teacher education program coordinator at the UW College of Education, wrote, “It’s exciting to recognize that so much that can happen for both teachers in training and for Garfield students. There are a variety of ways our teacher candidates can support teachers – one-on-one reading, support individualized student growth, help create and adapt lesson plans.”

Teacher education students participated in all classes and worked closely with the Garfield students as well as the summer bridge teachers. From assessing papers to supporting the teachers with various tasks, they were woven into the fabric of these classrooms.  The result? Teacher candidates developed understandings of incoming freshman that gave Garfield teachers relevant insight about their students.

All of this work tied back to the UW student’s own curriculum. This past summer, they had three instructors that taught a joint syllabus - which included multicultural education, literacy across content areas, and working with English Language Learners – all on-site at Garfield.  This was particularly powerful since the UW student’s curriculum directly relates to the work that they’ll be doing with the Garfield students.

“Since we changed the Teacher Education program, this is the first time our students have been working in the summer,” Mikolasy stated. “For the first week, UW students will be there from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday with the three instructors. They will be taking the literacy, ELL, and multicultural classes. In weeks two through six they will meet from 8:00 a.m. to 8:50 a.m. Monday through Thursday with their instructors. And from 9:00 a.m. until noon they will be in classes with the instructors mentoring, helping teachers, working with teachers.”

Sarah Rowe, a UW Ph.D. candidate in secondary literacy, taught the literacy course. Rowe was joined by Zoi Microlis, a fellow Ph.D. Candidate who taught the Multicultural Education course, and Kristen Calaff, Ph.D., and the English as a Second Language endorsement instructor.

Evaluation: What works? What doesn’t?

The goal of the UW Teacher Education Program’s involvement in Garfield Summer Bridge is that it is ultimately valuable to their students.  If the partnership makes a difference, then they can sustain something that is a learning experience for everyone involved. 

“We ask big questions,” says Mikolasy. “About what is happening, how students are engaging, what is this experience of working with 8th graders like for the pre-service teachers. We ask what is this summer experience at Garfield with summer teachers and UW teacher candidates like for the eighth graders. What prior knowledge do the 8th graders bring to class and how will knowledge be used?”

This summer is the prototype, a model that is constantly undergoing questioning and revisions from leadership. Mikolasy, Gish, and Bier, observed throughout the days, gathering data and anecdotes for leadership debriefs that may result in program tweaks.

Gish was particularly interested in observing the relationship between the UW teachers in training and the high school students. “The teacher education students get to engage one-on-one with kids prior to student teaching,” he explained, “which will increase their feelings of security and will enlarge their repertoire of how to engage kids. It will also help them get to know kids as people and they will bring this humanity to how they interact with kids during their student teacher experience. The more humanity that you bring into the classroom, the better. But you need to practice doing that and that’s what they’ve been allowed to do here.”

Mikolasy agreed, asserting the importance of connecting the curriculum to real life as well. “One thing I know as a teacher of forty years,” she stated, “you have to make it connected. If you can connect what a kid is learning with real life experiences, it works.”

The Garfield students benefit from the teacher education students as well. “For the Garfield students,” said Gish, “it’s having somebody next to them so that there is no lag time between a question and an answer. They don’t have to wait for a teacher.”