CSU Student Teachers Offer Extra Help to Two Schools

roger hatcher quoteCOLUMBUS, Ga. — When Fox and Mulberry Creek elementary schools asked for help, Columbus State University answered with an emphatic yes.

CSU mobilized its student teachers to those Muscogee and Harris county schools to help improve test scores, and the effort yielded positive results.

"We've seen a substantial gain in test scores," said Penny Thornton, Fox Elementary principal. "The actual scores will not come out until the start of the new school year, but we know that there has been a great deal of improvement with our students. CSU played a large part in that."

Fox is among 35 schools in Muscogee and Harris counties, plus Fort Benning, where CSU places its student teachers. Fox became a place of interest when, during a discussion at an education conference, Thornton expressed a need for extra hands to do what she and her staff wanted to do with Fox students. Counting teachers assigned to classrooms, and those in the Physical Education for Early Childhood class assigned to afterschool activities and tutoring, CSU placed 35-40 students on Fox's campus throughout the 2012-2013 school year.

"We saw that as an opportunity to go in and see if we could make an even bigger difference at a site," said Roger Hatcher, director of CSU's Center for Quality Teaching and Learning. "Our response was, 'Let's see what we can do to help.'"

The work at Fox represented a fundamental change in how Columbus State's Early Childhood Program students are taught. Barbara Buckner, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions, changed that. Now, student teachers are in a yearlong internship in one school. They not only do their last semester of practicum in the fall at one school with their assigned teacher, they also remain with that teacher the next semester for their student teaching experience.

"They stay with one teacher the entire year which, of course, helps them build rapport with those students, and with that teacher," Hatcher said.

CSU doubled the number of practicum students last spring at Fox from one — which is the norm — per assigned teacher to two. Fox administrators expressed a need for additional help to allow its staff to customize their instruction. With the extra student help, Fox teachers were able to break their classes into smaller groups and offer more individualized instruction, something they could not successfully do before.

"[CSU student teachers] were committed to the students," Thornton said. "They quickly learned their names, learned their personalities and were quick to address the students' needs. The key to achieving improved scores is working in small, flexible groups. The math and science students helped provide small group instruction. The CSU teachers had a chance to teach all the students as they rotated to each group. They gave intense small group instruction."

Fewer student instructors were involved with Columbus State's presence at Mulberry Creek in Harris County, but their impact was no less significant.

"I attribute a lot of things to (improved test scores)," said Justin Finney, Mulberry Creek principal. "We did get good test scores. And the interns from Columbus State College of Education were very important in what we do. It gave (teachers) more flexibility in teaching and tutoring at-risk students.

"It helped us with flexible grouping, where you take grade level of kids to provide interventions. It takes a lot of people to do that."

Columbus State was up to making such a commitment. Hatcher said CSU is moving to a point in the Early Childhood Program where all eligible Early Childhood teaching candidates are going through a yearlong internship. He anticipates CSU placing some yearlong interns — probably another 20−25 in the fall at Mulberry, and another 20-25 in the spring at Fox.Additionally, CSU student teachers will not only teach at Fox but also be taught there as the school is providing classroom space for their practicum on site in math and science labs.

"It just makes sense," Thornton said. "Their professors will be coming here to observe them in the classroom, and the material they are being taught is readily available. We are teaching it here with the school students."

"The classes being taught on site will be exciting to see," said Jean Partridge, CSU director of Student Advising and Field Experience. "Say a professor is discussing a certain strategy to use. He can pick up that class (and) say, 'Let's go look at what Ms. so-and-so is doing right now. She's using it. Let's go see it in practice.'"

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