USF teacher candidates step into their own classrooms during USF-Pepin Summer Institute
TAMPA, Fla. (July 27, 2018) – Arts and crafts, soccer games and musical performances are some of the range of activities children partake in while out of school during the summer months.
Under the guidance of USF teacher candidates, students completed these activities and more during the USF-Pepin Summer Institute, a four-week alternative learning experience that helps students from Pepin Academies improve their reading and math skills.
Pepin Academies is a tuition-free public charter school that serves K-12 students who have learning-related disabilities. Established in 2011, the USF-Pepin Summer Institute provides benefits to both USF teacher candidates from the College of Education’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) program and Pepin Academies’ students who participate in the free summer experience.
During the program, USF teacher candidates run their own classrooms of 6-12 students and are given the opportunity to build and manage their own class, develop their own lesson plans and connect with their students individually. Students from Pepin Academies benefit as well — they are provided with an alternative learning experience that helps them grow their reading and math skills so they can continue their academic and social progress in the upcoming school year.
While running their own classrooms, USF students receive guidance and coaching from peer mentors, doctoral students and Betsy Doone, PhD, the ESE undergraduate program coordinator.
“It’s a win-win situation because our students get some good practice in things that they don’t get in a typical year like making decisions about classroom set-up and management… and I think that helps them and provides a lot of insight,” Doone said. “For the (Pepin Academies) students, they have an opportunity because they know it’s summer, the day’s a little shorter, the classroom’s a little bit more relaxed and a lot smaller. So they get an opportunity to connect to their interests as well as to teachers who are willing to try anything with them.”
Jordan Rosen, a senior in the ESE program, said the Summer Institute was her first time teaching in her own classroom, and that it was an experience that will help her prepare for her future career.
“I really love working with the students,” Rosen said. “I’ve gained so much knowledge... and it was just an amazing experience working with all of them.”
While arts activities and a short recess break are traditionally included in the curriculum, new to this summer’s program was the addition of multiple hands-on activities that allow students to participate in both the arts and in developmentally-appropriate physical activities, such as 3D printing, drumming circles and adapted physical education. These experiences were offered through the College of Education’s Physical Education program and VSA Florida, a nonprofit organization headquartered in the College of Education that conducts arts education programs for individuals with disabilities from across the state of Florida.
While the Summer Institute provides growth opportunities and teaching experience for USF students, Pepin Academies also benefits from the partnership by receiving research data collected by the teacher candidates throughout the summer and by forming relationships with top teacher candidates who may later teach full-time at the school.
Jeff Skowronek, Executive Director of Pepin Academies, said the biggest testament to the success of the program is witnessing students actually enjoy being in school over the summer. The relaxed, smaller scale environment allows Pepin Academies’ students to explore some of their interests that are not typically the focus of the traditional school year, and Skowronek said in many cases, students uncover interests they never knew they had.
“The partnership with USF for the Pepin Summer Institute is an invaluable learning experience for everyone involved, but most profoundly for our students,” Skowronek said. “Because the teachers of the summer institute are current USF students, Pepin Academies' students get the benefit of learning from eager bright minds exploring the latest in the field of education. We are eager to see this program not only continue, but also grow by continuing to utilize innovative and creative ways to make summer learning fun for everyone involved.”
For many teacher candidates in the ESE program, the Summer Institute is the first opportunity they have to manage their own classroom and develop their own school curriculum. They experience first hand the complexities of the teaching profession, including designing lessons, setting up classrooms, providing instruction and appropriately addressing challenging student behavior.
“You’re thrown into the classroom, in a good way,” said Kate Callinan, a recent graduate of the ESE program who returned this summer to serve as a peer mentor to other students in the program. “You get your feet wet and really understand what it’s like to be a teacher for these four weeks.”
Monica Tookes, another recent graduate of the ESE program who returned as a peer mentor, said she remembers being in the same shoes as the other first-time teachers and that returning to the program as a mentor has reaffirmed for her that the Summer Institute is an opportunity to grow as an educator.
“It’s a safe place,” Tookes said. “It’s okay to make mistakes because you’re learning and you’re growing constantly. Having the flexibility to be able to do that the first year is amazing and will definitely prepare you for future teaching.”
Being an effective educator goes beyond understanding how to teach, Doone said. Students learn about the additional skills they need to be successful teachers, skills such as compassion, empathy and understanding.
“(ESE teachers) have to be able to make connections with everything they do,” Doone said. “Sometimes, to teach the content and teach it well is not enough. For (students with exceptionalities), you have to make connections with the content demonstrating when they’re going to use it, how they’re going to use it and how it applies to their life.”