10:36 a.m., Feb. 11, 2010----Some undergraduate and graduate students pursuing an education degree at the University of Delaware never stepped into a UD classroom for their course this Winter Session. Instead, students in the School of Education's Diversity in Secondary Education class learned and applied their lessons within the community, meeting three times a week at Talley Middle School in Wilmington, Del.
More than simply attending class there, UD students spent part of their time tutoring and mentoring eighth graders at the school who were struggling in math.
“It's night and day,” said Shuaib Meacham, associate professor of education. “You think about the urgency of having a roomful of people who are going to become teachers and the sounds of students in the hallways, and they can see the students through the windows and in the library. Everything I'm talking about in class becomes that much more relevant. “
This is the second time Meacham has used Talley as a classroom for University students. The idea became a reality after much collaboration among Meacham, David Pope, a pastor at the New Life Christian Fellowship Church in Wilmington, and Talley's principal, Richard Carter.
“We thought, are there ways to bring pre-service teachers into a school community such that they could learn from some strong professionals?” said Carter. “Is there a way we can help further their education, and mine their talent and abilities and desire to connect with children?”
Carter said this idea of community and school partnership stems from the teachings of his mentor, Ira Harkavy, who is the founding director and associate vice president of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania.
As a school, Talley has struggled to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and was facing the possibility of restructuring according to the No Child Left Behind Act when Carter took the position three and one-half years ago. Carter says school administrators, counselors and teachers have worked very hard to track student progress and data, working individually with students who aren't achieving the necessary test scores.
UD students became part of that effort because of the winter class, creating math exercises, games and worksheets for the individual eighth graders they tutor.
“Just getting a one-on-one chance to work with students, to actually feel like you're teaching and helping them, has been great,” said junior Nick Todorow, who's majoring in English education. “And to actually be in a school has been phenomenal.”
Todorow says with a little patience and time, he saw a big change in his student's confidence toward the material.
“As we sat down together and worked through some of the material he was having trouble with, he realized that some of what he was having trouble with, he could do with no problem, it just takes a little work,” said Todorow.
Other UD students said the tutoring experience has helped improve more than just their eighth graders' math skills. Junior Lindsey Melvin, a political science major, said being able to connect on a personal level with her student allowed him to see that despite the struggles he's been through, she believes he can succeed.
“I definitely think I've given him the tools to apply to his math class and language arts, in the way that I struggle with math particularly,” said Melvin.
While Talley continues to strive for achievement, in 2009 the Brandywine School District did reach a milestone. The district, which includes Talley, reached AYP for the first time.
Carter said he hopes to grow community involvement in the future, and wants the school to build strong relationships with UD and other universities and especially with organizations and people within the community. The UD students have played a vital role in mentoring and tutoring the students who need extra help, he said.
“There's a degree to which you have to make yourself vulnerable as a learner in order to grow, and the UD students have been excellent in inculcating that dynamic between themselves and our students,” remarked Carter.
Before now, many of the eighth graders at Talley hadn't been exposed to universities like UD. Meacham said this collaboration also lets young students know that when they continue to achieve, they have many bright possibilities, including college.
“I think it's been very beneficial in opening the eyes of the students to some of the things that are in store for them in the future, if they do well in school,” he said.
Article, photos and video by Cassandra Kramer