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Curriculum Change Offers More Time in the Classroom

BOONE—Summer Harpold, a senior from Crossnore, wants to teach elementary school. Now a student teacher at Avery County’s Beech Mountain Elementary, Harpold says she is more prepared to lead a classroom because of the internship she completed through the elementary education program at Appalachian State University.”I had a lot of one-on-one instruction with students, and I really learned how students think,” Harpold said.

Her internship was part of the Professional Development School arrangement, an important curriculum change occurring in the elementary and middle grades programs in Appalachian’s Reich College of Education. The give-and-take relationship benefits Appalachian students as well as area schools, and is part of a growing national trend to strengthen ties among classroom teachers, young people studying to become teachers and the faculty who prepare them.

Appalachian has PDS agreements with Beech Mountain School and Bethel Elementary in Watauga County. Later this spring, Watauga County’s Mabel Elementary will become the university’s third elementary PDS site. The middle grades program will select its PDS sites next fall.

In PDS, Appalachian students gain classroom experience as interns the semester prior to their student teaching, and Appalachian faculty work with teachers on school performance needs identified by the teachers.

“The internship gets you in the classroom and you’re already working with students before entering student teaching,” says Harpold, who works with second- and third-graders. “I really think more people should have that experience.”

The elementary PDS efforts started when the faculty conducted school improvement plans as required by the State of North Carolina. Beech Mountain, for example, wanted to boost its students’ reading and math skills, so its principal contacted RCOE for assistance.

Since the PDS agreement started in 1998, Beech Mountain students who previously scored below grade level achieved one year’s growth or greater on end-of-year testing, according to a school report. The school also was one of four schools nominated by N.C. Department of Public Instruction as a 2000 Title I Distinguished School.

“The new research helps us teach better, and we get that from Appalachian,” says Beech Mountain Principal Phil Shomaker, who earned his master’s degree from Appalachian.

The small, rural schools present opportunities to offer more than in-service workshops, explains Woody Trathen, associate professor in Appalachian’s Department of Language, Reading and Exceptionalities. “(Workshops) don’t create systemic change that schools often are looking for. We said we’d like to enter a relationship, to adopt the school, and work on something over time.” He added that contact with the classroom helps keep him up-to-date on K-6 issues.

Beech Mountain teacher Tonya McKinney, a 1990 graduate of Appalachian, said

Trathen and associate professor Pam Schram in the Department of Curriculum and

Instruction carefully listened to teachers’ needs and suggested new teaching techniques. The Appalachian faculty frequently participate in Beech Mountain activities.

With fewer than 80 students, Beech Mountain is unlike most schools. Classrooms are configured K-1, 2-3, 4-6 and 7-8. McKinney, who teaches fourth-, fifth- and sixth- grades, says most workshop information doesn’t apply to her needs. “Woody and Pam know our setting… They are here, they know the children and they know what will work,” she says.

The state grant-funded partnership also pays for McKinney and Jennifer Freeman, Beech Mountain’s reading and special education teacher, to pursue graduate education. The two teachers apply their graduate coursework to their elementary classroom and share what they learn with their colleagues.

“I probably would not have worked on my master’s degree otherwise,” Freeman said.

Having interns and student teachers from Appalachian helps them too, the teachers say.

“It lowers student-teacher ratio. We have them give extra help and tutoring where needed. The kids have enjoyed having them,” Freeman said.

Interns observe classroom activities, work individually with students and finish paperwork so the teacher can spend more time teaching. As student teachers, the Appalachian students’ responsibilities increase to a team-teaching partnership with the

classroom teacher.

“I felt so prepared coming in to student teaching,” said Angela Rogers, a senior from Taylorsville who interned at Beech Mountain last fall and student teaches in McKinney’s classroom.

“It’s nice having done the internship at the same school—I already felt comfortable with the teachers and the kids.”

The Reich College of Education prepares about 25 percent of North Carolina’s teachers and 30 percent of the state’s school administrators. It is named for the late Lois Reich, a longtime educator in Davidson County.