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Celebrating Three Decades of Students Becoming Teachers

SED, Boston Public Schools mark 30-year partnership

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Carol Johnson, superintendent of Boston Public Schools, receives flowers from BU School of Education Consortium council chairman Larry Iamello, curriculum coordinator of math and science in the Somerville Public Schools (center), and Charles Glenn, SED dean ad interim, at the consortium’s 30th anniversary celebration last week. Photo by Frank Curran

In 2005 Nikki Jondahl worked in a kindergarten classroom at the Jackson Mann Elementary School in Allston. That’s not unusual for an aspiring teacher, except that Jondahl was a School of Education freshman at the time.

“In most universities, education students don’t get into a real classroom until their junior or senior year,” says Jondahl (SED’09). “Going as a freshman allowed me to better understand lesson planning, and it definitely reaffirmed my desire to teach. The teachers gave me plenty of time to observe, and then bit by bit they helped me to become more interactive in the classroom.” Jondahl ended the semester by using a Web site to give a lesson about flowers. “The kids really seemed to enjoy it,” she says.

Jondahl’s experience was made possible by the Boston University School of Education Consortium, which offers SED students a variety of settings in which to student-teach, gain school-based counseling experience, and work as administrative interns.

Last week SED marked the consortium’s 30th anniversary with a celebratory program and reception. Carol Johnson, the new superintendent of schools in Boston, was the keynote speaker.

“In the last three decades, our nation has become more diverse in language, income, and cultural groups,” Johnson said. “Thirty years ago, few educators predicted the global community our children would inherit; perhaps the people in this consortium realized it more than most.”

“Today, we need to recognize that a partnership between our public schools and institutions of higher education is critically important to the long-term investments we seek for our children,” she continued. “We must plant the seeds for a journey, not just a one-year commitment.”

The consortium was created in 1977, when a group of Massachusetts educators and administrators, led by former SED Dean Robert Dentler, entered into a collaborative agreement to increase the exchange of educational and instructional resources between Boston University and Boston area schools.

Today, the consortium includes seven public school systems, or clusters, and five member agencies, including the Clinton Path Preschool in Brookline and Allston’s Jackson Mann Community Center. Funded by SED, it supports activities ranging from fitness programs in Lexington to education programs for disabled students in Newton.

The consortium also gives SED students a chance to participate in fieldwork at the various districts during their freshman and junior years. Work done through the consortium differs from senior-year student teaching in that students mainly observe the classrooms and only occasionally lead lessons.

“By sending students into the field as freshmen and again as juniors, we give them an opportunity to confirm that teaching is indeed something they want to pursue,” says Joan Dee, associate dean of SED. “It also allows them to see, for the first time in their lives, the classroom as a teacher, rather than as a student.”

The consortium has placed more than 9,000 students and provided the school systems with more than $1.5 million in funding for special projects.

At last week’s anniversary celebration, representatives from each district described projects supported by consortium funding. For example, in Chelsea, members of the new Chelsea High School speech and debate team were able to enter the state debate championship.

And Vicky Schwartz, a third grade teacher from the Lexington cluster, arranged for her students to take a field trip to the New England Aquarium with their “kindergarten buddies,” whom they mentor, and purchased books and fish to dissect.

“My third graders really enjoy having the SED students,” Schwartz says. “They believe it’s their responsibility to convince the SED students to become teachers, so they’re always very well behaved for them.”

But SED and the public school students aren’t the only ones who benefit. One of the most valuable aspects of the consortium, according to allocations committee member and treasurer Carol Jenkins, an SED associate professor, is that it keeps SED professors abreast of teacher concerns and practices. “We rely on the cluster representatives to update us on new things happening in the classroom,” she says. “It is a fabulous way for those of us at SED to be in continual contact with colleagues working in the field.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.