Teacher champions: New model for elementary ed majors

Schools as core of communities
education conference

Penn State Abington preservice teachers shared their experiences with service and community-building at a recent conference.

Credit: Regina Broscius

The Penn State Abington cafeteria reverberated with the repeated call (from faculty):

“We are teachers!”

And response (from 70 teachers-in-training):

“I believe!”

It wasn't a pep rally instead it was a roomful of elementary education majors from six area colleges and universities who sacrificed a sunny Saturday to attend the Collective Impact Regional Conference: Leadership, Service and Scholarship (LS2).

LS2 was born of the movement to mold educators into effective teacher champions. Why teacher champions? Kathleen Fadigan, assistant professor of education at Abington, explained this transformational model for education.

“Each child is formed by experiences unique to them, their family and community," she said. "Teachers who graduate from Abington are prepared to work in any socioeconomic setting. They can recognize and assess their community, connect with them, and understand how that society works."

education majors

Penn State Abington elementary education majors sort books for a community partnership school. The schools receive donations of time and materials, and the student teach mini-lessons and assist students and their teachers.

Credit: Penn State

Abington faculty Ann Martinelli and Temple University's Jason Bazzone served as the emcees/organizers/motivators for LS2. Students led workshops on establishing, expanding, and maintaining service in school communities.

"Teachers who graduate from Abington can recognize and assess their community, connect with them, and understand how that society works."

-- Kathleen Fadigan, Abington faculty

Abington education majors combine entrepreneurship with civic engagement to accomplish service goals. With the Purse Project, for example, they collected handbags and filled them with tissues, feminine products, and other mom essentials. They distributed the bags at Abington's community partnership schools in economically challenged neighborhoods.

education majors

Pierre LaRocco, a guidance counselor at South Philadelphia High School, explains the process his school adopted to help students receive social service supports they need. Without addressing these other needs, he said they cannot effectively teach.

Credit: Regina Broscius

The professionals, including educators from the Philadelphia school district, took turns schooling the pre-service teachers on the skills and attitude necessary for teacher champions.

Guidance counselor Pierre LaRocco spoke about the community school model adopted at South Philadelphia High School. They incorporate social workers from about 20 providers into the culture of the building with teachers referring students in need of supports.

“You can't teach students chemistry if they are wondering where their dinner is coming from. We must take care of their basic needs first,” he said. “Is this the role of the school? Well, if we don’t do it, we can't teach effectively.”

“You can't teach students chemistry if they are wondering where their dinner is coming from. We must take care of their basic needs first." Pierre LaRocco, high school guidance counselor

Otis Hackney, chief education officer for the City of Philadelphia, works with public and private partners to aid the beleaguered School District of Philadelphia. He was by turns funny (introducing himself with lyrics from the classic "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" song: ‘West Philadelphia born and raised’) and dead serious. 

“You’re not even good at teaching, yet. You will struggle," the former math teacher said. "And you will have wins. Prepare yourself for that.”

He challenged them to weave the core values of LS2 into the classroom and their careers. As a math teacher, he developed his own classroom community, Hackney’s Haven.

“You are primarily a relationship builder,” he reminded them. “Treat people with sense of community and respect and dignity.”

education majors

Abington education majors teach lesson in to local elementary school students.

Credit: Penn State

“You are primarily a relationship builder.”

-- Otis Hackney, chief education officer, City of Philadelphia

Martinelli, the Abington faculty member who co-organized LS2, summed up the day for the preservice teachers: “Collaboration helps teaching and learning come alive. If service wasn’t running in your blood before, I hope it is after today.”

The international education honor society, Kappa Delta Pi, sponsored LS2. Students from Camden County College as well as Rowan, Arcadia, and West Chester universities attend with peers from Abington and Temple.

Abington elementary and early childhood education majors channel service projects through the Education Club, which supports underprivileged schools through donations of supplies and time. The club also provides professional development and provides the opportunity to observe and teach mini-lessons in classroom settings.