Students gain early childhood teaching experience in Texas

February 9, 2017
Teaching in Aldine
teaching in Aldine
Students in Galveston

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Sixteen teacher candidates from the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville recently had an opportunity to gain early childhood teaching experience by delivering more than 80 hours of instruction to 250 students at the Hinojosa Early Childhood/Pre-Kindergarten and Head Start Center and 150 students at the Garcia-Leza Early Childhood/Pre-Kindergarten Center, both in Aldine, Texas.

The collaborative teaching opportunity was part of the School of Education’s Early Childhood Student Teaching course, taught by Dr. Jennifer Collins, assistant professor of education at UW-Platteville, who led the trip.

UW-Platteville has partnered with the Aldine School District for more than 13 years. Approximately 72 percent of the students are Hispanic and 83 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

Early childhood teacher candidates spent two weeks immersed in an early childhood classroom, delivering whole, small group and individual instruction, working side-by-side with veteran teachers at Hinojosa and Garcia-Leza Pre-K Centers. In addition, students attended planning sessions and staff development opportunities, offered by the school. Housed with a teacher or an administrator from their school, students also were given many opportunities to explore the life and culture that the Houston area had to offer.

The purpose of the community partnership is to enable teacher candidates to increase their knowledge, skills and disposition related to the Wisconsin Teaching Standards, specifically in regard to student development and learning, working with diverse learners, instructional strategies, self-reflection and collaboration. The project also serves as a recruiting activity in the Aldine School District.

UW-Platteville students – many of who were working for the first time with students who did not reflect themselves with regard to first language, race or ethnicity – gained an increased awareness and understanding of how to effectively engage all students in learning.

“It is no secret that our part of the state lacks the diversity that exists in the larger urban areas of Wisconsin,” said Collins. “This experience says a lot about our students and their willingness to take advantage of an opportunity to challenge themselves. Experiencing a new culture, working with students whose first language is not English, adjusting to a new school curriculum and school climate can be unnerving and yet our students jump in with both feet and take on those challenges. What is amazing is that after the two weeks, they often comment that the cultural and linguistic ‘challenges’ they worried about beforehand ended up being the most positive part of the experience. As a teacher educator, changing the diversity narrative from ‘deficit’ to ‘asset’ is the greatest gift we can give our young teachers.”

Collins said she feels like a proud parent when she takes part in experiences like this. “The teachers and administrators always comment about the quality of our students, not just academically, but how they carry themselves as ambassadors of UW-Platteville,” said Collins. “We have a reputation as being kind and flexible and, as one administrator said, ‘Just a delight to be around; I would love to adopt them all.’ The teachers and administrators could not be more helpful to make the experience a positive one for our students. Without fail, they always greet everyone with a big hello in the hallway, are willing to share their knowledge of content and best practices for young learners with our students, and are exceedingly flexible with our schedules. And as for the students, who doesn’t love 25 hugs every time you enter a classroom?”

While fulfilling her Early Childhood student teaching requirement at Garcia-Leza EC/PK school in Aldine, Laura Altiere, a senior elementary education major with an early childhood minor from Minneapolis, Minnesota was assigned to an Inclusion classroom, which provided her with a new, unique experience to work with a broad range of 4-year-old students and witness how the co-taught class was structured in a way that made learning accessible for all of the students.

“One of the highlights while I was there was when a new student who was legally blind was integrated into the classroom,” said Altiere. “I got to participate in conversations with his movement and Braille specialists who were helping the teachers make the classroom more maneuverable. We also learned about the numerous materials they had to help this student learn alongside of his classmates. I also was able to help the students learn how they could properly support their new classmate. They were all able to work on helping the student walk to the door where his walking stick was, and assist him in other classroom duties. What a great lesson in care and kindheartedness for 4-year-olds to learn and what a great experience for me to have at such an early stage in my teaching career.”

“UW-Platteville students found out more about themselves as they loved and taught students from culturally rich and diverse backgrounds,” said Karen Wilkerson, principal of Hinojosa. “Hearts were united for a lifetime.” 

In addition to Wilkerson, the following individuals were key to the collaborative teaching effort: Hinojosa teachers Melanie Gonda, Erica Bristor, Kathy Flores, Rosalinda Perez, Jill Charrier, Jeanetta Denman, Eva Garza, Marliann Park, Jaime Grettneberg, Diana Morals and Maria Gonzales; Orfelinda Todd, principal of Garcia-Leza; and Garcia-Leza teachers Kathering Klosterboer, Karla Navarro, Lorina Ramirez, Breshiana Lewis, Marissa Elam, Shandrea Silmon and Gabriella Garcia.

UW-Platteville students who participated in the Aldine teaching opportunity included Altiere, Alicia Filloon, Rachel Dankmeyer, Emily Simons, Chris Dorst, Trevor Hanson, Liz Pelegrin, Lydia Schalch, Charlotte Thomas, Johnna Coleman, Morgan Reese, Ashlyn Tyl, Shane Collins, Brad Doherty, Elizabeth Hughes and Morgan Mahnesmith.

Funding support for the early childhood teaching experience in Aldine, Texas was provided by Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement, a UW-Platteville initiative and funding source for campus-wide coordination, integration and leadership of community-based scholarship of engagement projects and internships that involve students, faculty, staff and community partners.

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, Communications Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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