Building on last year’s success, LCPS and Teach for America have teamed up again to bring Lenoir County public school students a six-week summer school session that organizers know will be bigger and expect will be even better than 2016’s inaugural effort.
The improvements, they say, are due to changes that fine tune the experience for students, parents and teachers. However, the core of this unique summer school – the partnership between the school district and Teach for America and its mutual benefit – has changed only in that it is more solid in its second year.
TFA Summer School provides more than 400 students with extra academic help at no cost to parents and will give 45 fledgling teachers who are new to the Teach for America program valuable hours in front of a classroom and, in concentrated form, education pedagogy.
“It’s really exciting to know that more than 400 kids are going to be avoiding that summer learning slide,” said Caty Gray Urquhart, director of residency elementary programming with Teach for America in North Carolina. “By having 20 kids in a classroom, we can give corps members a simulation of what real teaching is going to look like. Who better to teach teachers how to teach than students?”
After spending a week in orientation at N.C. Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, TFA corps members this past weekend moved to Kinston and into housing provided by Teach for America, working with downtown developer Steven Hill. The teachers and six staff members, including Urquhart, will spend the summer in Kinston.
“This truly is a wonderful opportunity for our students and our community,” said Kim Hazelgrove, LCPS’s beginning teacher coordinator and a summer school organizer. “We welcome all of the corps members to Kinston and look forward to having them become a part of our great city this summer.”
Summer School starts Thursday and runs through July 27 at Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School. It will open with 430 elementary-age students registered and a waiting list of 83, which will be whittled down as slots become available.
Last year, total enrollment reached about 300 students, even though the summer school was open to elementary, middle and high school students. Focusing on elementary students and conducting summer school at a single site are two of the operational changes Urquhart believes make the program more efficient and productive.
“We knew we could fill every classroom we had with elementary students,” she said. The decision to move from two sites to one “was made in the service of streamlining all the transportation.”
Holding classes at CSS also allows summer school students to attend afternoon sessions of LCPS’s STEM Summer Camps, also held at CSS during the same weeks. LCPS provides transportation and meals for students at both.
“The school district and TFA decided summer school and the STEM camps would be in the same location at the same time,” Urquhart said. “That’s important in terms of our collaborative partnership with the district. I think it’s moving the partnership forward.”
TFA recruits top-level college graduates from diverse fields to become teachers for at least two years in low-income communities. Of its some 600 teachers, LCPS typically has about 25 TFA corps members on staff.
When the school district and TFA joined forces last year to create a summer school, both were trying something new. Before 2016, LCPS hadn’t provided summer classes in many years and previously TFA’s incoming teacher candidates practiced teaching skills and learned Teach for America values at a national training site.
The shift to regional training, tried for the first time in Lenoir and Northampton counties, was designed to make summer training more like school-year employment, acclimating corps members not only to the classroom but also to the culture and rhythms of eastern North Carolina communities.
Under the tutelage of master teachers, corps members will lead classroom instruction from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. will become the students in sessions on teaching technique and classroom culture. Classroom instruction focuses on reading, math and writing and “is based on the most challenging standards from every grade level,” Urquhart said. “All curriculum is based on putting learning in the hands of students, on making students owners of their own learning.”
After their six weeks in Kinston, the new teachers – along with the incoming middle and high school teachers training this summer in Northampton County – will join the staffs of public schools in 14 eastern North Carolina counties.
They will be better prepared for work because of their immersion in the region, if data from 2016 is any indication. “Teach for America compiles a corps member satisfaction index, how they’re experiencing Teach for America,” Urquhart said. “The organization nationally has breakthrough goals for that data, and our data (in eastern North Carolina) far surpassed those goals. We surpassed every goal we set in terms of corps member satisfaction.”
Parent satisfaction with the inaugural effort played a role in boosting current enrollment, Urquhart feels. With the experience of the first year, LCPS redoubled its student recruitment effort and created a more “holistic enrollment plan,” she said. Parent information meetings, extensive outreach by elementary schools and their principals and involvement of district-level administrators “came with that increased partnership.” But nothing speaks to the credibility of a new venture like customer satisfaction.
“We had really good word-of-mouth from parents,” Urquhart said. “Parents are better sales people for this than I could ever be.”