Widener education students find teaching success while immersed in Chester community.
Educators today aren’t only tasked with teaching literacy and mathematics. They instead play a critical role in developing the whole child – one who is safe, healthy, engaged and challenged.
This approach can take many forms, especially in diverse, urban schools. It can mean ensuring a child has a hot lunch, encouraging a child who is struggling at home or helping a class explore careers they otherwise might not be exposed to.
In Widener University’s Center for Education, seniors in the early childhood and special education program gain teaching experience in the classroom, while learning how to be responsive to the needs of every child, even if the child is racially, culturally and linguistically different from themselves.
As part of the university’s Community Engaged Teacher Education (CETE) program, the Widener seniors teach daily lessons in Stetser Elementary School in Chester.
“The overall goal is to help Widener teacher candidates realize the importance of connecting with their elementary-aged students within the context of the students’ community,” said Professor Nadine McHenry, who is leading the CETE program. “We want to provide teaching candidates with the necessary tools to be successful in all communities so they can address the opportunity gaps that often exist for children in urban settings.”
Widener students in the program also enroll in four courses – science, literacy, special education and urban anthropology – taught by McHenry, Director of Education Marcia Bolton, Assistant Professor Teri Wiedeman-Rouse and Associate Professor Bretton Alvare. The faculty ensure the themes in the coursework tie together and into the teaching the students are doing at Stetser.
Now, in its second year, the program is continuing to train future teachers who come to Widener to be culturally aware and responsive to their students.
On a recent school day, Danielle D’Adamo, a senior early childhood and special education major in the CETE program, navigated seamlessly through a lesson in which Stetser first grade students listened to a book about a boy escaping slavery and then discussed the character traits of the boy.
The CETE program at Widener is also unique in that the seniors are paired with community mentors who act as ambassadors to help them explore the Chester community’s values and culture.
For example, the Widener students and community mentors recently visited Asbury AME Church for a Sunday service to learn about the religious background of some of their Stetser students. This experience helps the students as they create lesson plans that incorporate call-and-response techniques and other classroom management styles mirrored by those seen in the church.
Aliyah Thomas, a 2017 Widener alumna who completed the CETE program last year, is using what she learned in the program to now teach kindergarten in Wilmington, Delaware – a city similar to Chester.
“I grew up in an area that was very similar to Chester,” she said. “But, many of my classmates did not, so the program showed me the different lenses we all have based on where we grew up.”
The program not only encouraged her to pursue her passion of working in an urban school, but gave her the tools she needed to do so.
“I am using my education from Widener and applying it in the classroom for students who need it most,” she said.
Brianna McBreen, a senior early childhood and special education major, feels a similar calling.
“Throughout the program, we are constantly asked to reflect on our experience,” McBreen said. “And, in reflection, I do see myself continuing to teach at a school like Stetser, especially because of the preparation I’m receiving.”
The main goal, McBreen said, is to gain the cultural awareness and teaching experience that will ensure she can provide her future students with the best chance at success.