BOZEMAN - Almost 1,000 Montana State University students who plan to become teachers have gained extra experience by tutoring and leading activities in after-school programs around Gallatin County.
Whether reading to children with Asperger's syndrome or helping kindergarteners make anti-bullying videos, MSU students recently said they welcome any opportunity to develop their skills.
They were also happy that the after-school opportunity became available through the "After School Initiative." The initiative began in the fall of 2011 and one of its key components was the "After School Partnership" that involves MSU, the Bozeman School District, and the Greater Gallatin United Way kidsLINK after-school program. Now ending its fourth semester, the initiative sends approximately 250 students a semester into Bozeman and Belgrade schools, said Jayne Downey, head of MSU's Department of Education.
"MSU's teacher ed program has 1,100 students now. At any given point, about one-fourth of them are involved in the after-school program," Downey said. "This is in addition to a semester of classroom practicum experience and a semester of student teaching."
During a recent afternoon at Hyalite Elementary in Bozeman, MSU students talked about their experiences and the benefits.
In one room, Jordan Sawyer from North Pole, Alaska oversaw third through fifth graders modifying gliders they had made out of paper and drinking straws. The senior, who already looked like a teacher in his dress shirt and tie, said, "It has given me experiences in how to become a good teacher. It's given me management skills, experience in working with others. It's gotten me into the community."
At the same time, outgoing third grader Sam Taylor said, "It's fun."
In a quiet nearby hallway, Ashley Williams of Hamilton read to a student who has Asperger's.
"I have learned so much about Asperger's syndrome and how to teach the student with that," said Williams, a junior majoring in elementary education. "I have learned how to deal with behavioral issues so much. I definitely can handle lots of situations because of that, because of being here. It's really been great."
In the Hyalite library, Jessica Johnson from Billings, a junior majoring in elementary and special education, and Veronica Gillund from Sunburst, a sophomore majoring in elementary education, helped kindergarteners use computers.
"It's teaching me a lot about classroom management skills and how to have a Plan B when things don't go your way," Gillund said. "... I'm learning how to improvise."
Johnson said, "It gets me into the school system and allows me to work with students before I teach. You can never have too much time with the kids. It's fun, and I like being with them."
Across the room, sophomore Jordyn Cooper of Dillon, said the after-school opportunity has taught her behavior management, given her real-life experience, and reinforced the rightness of her decision to major in elementary education. While a kindergartener stood beside her, Cooper gently tapped the girl on the back when it was time for her to record the line she had written for a "Stop Bullying" video.
"Don't say mean things," Aspen Logan recited as a picture she drew for the video appeared on the computer screen.
Downey said the After School Initiative grew out of feedback from MSU stakeholders, as well as research. Schools that worked with MSU's prospective teachers told the teacher education program that students needed more self-confidence and stronger skills in managing classrooms. Research from 2008 showed that prospective teachers who engage in after-school programs develop stronger skills in communication, teamwork, flexibility, self-motivation, organization and confidence. They also develop a more solid understanding of content and familiarity with unfamiliar subject areas.
"Thus, the faculty members in the Department of Education at MSU worked together to develop a new model of field experiences that combines graduated community-based clinical experiences in after-school programs with classroom-based clinical experiences," Downey said.
MSU now uses five phases for turning prospective elementary teachers into teachers. Phase One requires freshmen to participate in a community-based service learning project. Phase Two has freshmen and sophomores planning and delivering activities in an after-school book club. Phase Three has first-semester juniors planning and delivering activities for an after-school tech club. Phase Four has second-semester juniors planning and delivering lessons focused on the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Phase Five places first-semester seniors in K-8 classrooms for student teaching.
"The Department of Education at MSU views the After School Initiative as a key element of our service to our community and an opportunity to transform the educational experience of the next generation of young teachers," Downey said.
She hopes in the future that MSU will be able to offer after-school activities via the Web to rural Montana children throughout the state, Downey said.
"We really think that this is an effective way to help pre-service teachers build skills," Downey said. "If they can manage students effectively in an after-school program, it will be a lot easier for them to facilitate learning in the formal classroom."
As Beth Kennedy, program coordinator at Hyalite Elementary, reflected on the MSU students at her school, she said, "These students are great."
Parents, too, appreciate the students and their after-school involvement.
Looking over his son's shoulder at Hyalite Elementary, Lance Groff of Bozeman said, "He enjoys it. Of course, I would like to be able to pick him up after school, but this is definitely a nice program for kids to learn stuff. It's very nice."
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org