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Penn State students become the teachers at Fink; residency program helps them learn while lending hand in schools

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 11/6/19

Some students at Lyall J. Fink Elementary School and Middletown Area Middle School are getting a double-dose of teachers in the classroom.

Four Penn State Harrisburg seniors are in the classroom …

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Penn State students become the teachers at Fink; residency program helps them learn while lending hand in schools

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Some students at Lyall J. Fink Elementary School and Middletown Area Middle School are getting a double-dose of teachers in the classroom.

Four Penn State Harrisburg seniors are in the classroom for the whole school year as part of a teacher residency program.

One of the four is Jessica Horetsky, who graduated from Middletown Area High School in 2015.

Being in the classroom for the whole year has solidified that she wants to be a teacher, she said. When substitute teachers are there, Horetsky said she’s basically the teacher all day because she knows the students and their routines.

“I was exhausted, but it was the best day ever because I got to do so much and I got to be that single teacher,” she said.

The teacher residency candidates are in the classroom three times a week and back in class at Penn State Harrisburg the rest of the week.

“I think this co-teaching model has definitely evolved us as teachers because we get to see a different side that we haven’t seen before,” said Penn State senior Alexis Imler, one of the four resident teachers. “Throughout this whole experience, you definitely get the inside scoop to what teachers actually do — the hours that you have to stay after class for preparation for the next day and even the next week and what they put forth into every lesson.”

Joel Geary, Penn State Harrisburg Teacher Education project manager, said the mentor teachers meet the teacher residency candidates before school starts, and together they set up the classroom, attend school in-service meetings, work out plans for the start of the year and go to co-teaching training sessions at Penn State Harrisburg.

“I’m constantly in the action,” said senior and candidate Emma Lerchen.

Lerchen added that she noticed when she was acting out behaviors she would correct in her students, such as fiddling with her hands.

When a substitute was in the classroom one day, Lerchen was able to give insight on the students.

“If this would’ve been last semester when I was just observing, I don’t think that would’ve happened,” she said.

It’s challenging going from being a teacher to being a student, Horetsky said.

“We are hoping to improve the scheduling for next year, but at this time our candidates are very busy juggling all of their requirements,” Geary said.

After the holidays, the teacher residency candidates will be in the classroom full time through the end of the school year, which is almost a month later than Penn State Harrisburg’s graduation.

Superintendent Lori Suski said when they graduate in the spring, the candidates will be used as a building substitute teacher for the rest of the school year for a stipend.

This wasn’t the first time that these students were in the classroom. The candidates said they’re in the classroom both their sophomore and junior years.

Horetsky said the difference with this program is they start and end the school year with the students, and are in the classroom more days.

According to Geary, the Pennsylvania Department of Education requires student teachers have a minimum of 12 weeks of experience, and Penn State Harrisburg usually has a semester-long student teaching program.

This program, however, exceeds degree and certification requirements, and Geary said the participating candidates will be better prepared than any prior graduating group.

Their skills and experience will be enhanced by experiencing the life of a teacher from the start of the year to the end, Suski said. Geary added that students will benefit from having smaller lesson groups and opportunities for additional tutoring.

“The ‘win’ for the district is hopefully a pool of candidates that we have observed to be what MASD is looking for in a teacher and the opportunity for an interview for any potential openings in the future,” Suski said.

Jane Wilburne, professor of Mathematics Education and chairwoman of the Teacher Education Division, received a 2018-2019 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to plan what is now known as the Penn State Harrisburg Residency Collaborative, Geary said.

The goal was to form partnerships with nearby school districts while also improving student teaching, or the clinical practice portion of teacher preparation, Geary said.

The teacher residency candidates are placed in other districts as well, including Steelton-Highspire School District and Central Dauphin School District. Harrisburg Area Community College is also a partner and served on the steering committee.

Penn State Harrisburg was awarded a larger implementation grant for the 2019-2020 school year to start the program. Geary said Penn State is one of four colleges in the state to receive the funding to implement this type of teacher residency program at the undergraduate level, and most similar programs are only at the master level.

Penn State wanted a program where the teacher residency candidates were at the school for a longer period compared to the old model of student teaching. The candidates are placed at the school for the full school year.

“I think we all agree that classrooms demand a lot of our current educators, and adding a co-teacher can help,” Geary said.

Suski said the district was approached by the university over a year ago.

“We got involved in this initiative out of concern for the growing teacher shortage in our area. Fewer students are entering the education profession, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain quality teachers,” Suski said.

The Middletown Area School Board unanimously approved a memorandum of agreement between the district and the university for the program during its Aug. 20 meeting.