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For pre-service teachers,
it's a short walk from theory to practice

Juan BernedoJuan Bernedo grew up in Alexandria; he attended K-12 private schools then Fairfax County High School. His milieu was urban and mostly homogenous. Five year olds were not an important part of his world. But he came to Longwood and decided he wanted to become a teacher; that's when he came under the influence of Dr. Luther R. Kirk, assistant professor of education.

Bernedo says, "Dr. Kirk helps students find ways to develop their own teaching philosophy. He opened a lot of doors for all of us. He tries to get to know each of us, and everything is always positive with him."

With Dr. Kirk's encouragement, Bernedo had his second teaching practicum during spring semester 2001 teaching kindergartners and first graders in a multi-age classroom at Cumberland Elementary School. The setting was rural, it was ethnically diverse, and the kids were a lot younger than Bernedo had imagined himself teaching. He says of the experience, "I saw it as a chance to see a different point of view." He adds, "And I wasn't sure if I wanted to teach younger grades. But I loved it."

Bernedo was a "pre-service teacher" in one of the partnership programs between the School of Education and school districts in surrounding counties. Dr. Kirk piloted the first partnership with Dillwyn Elementary School in Buckingham County in the spring of 2000. It was such a winning program for all involved that a second partnership was established in the fall of 2000, this one with Prince Edward County. With improvements in pupils' standardized test scores and other positive feedback, a third partnership was established with Cumberland County schools.

As of fall 2001, the partnership program has been extended to Charlotte County.

The partnerships allow Longwood students and their professors to spend four days per week at the partner school site. For one-half of each day, Longwood students have on-site classes with the professors to learn methods of teaching; for the other half, they practice these methods in an elementary classroom. Most education students have a partnership practicum during their junior year.

Dr. Betty Jo Simmons, professor of education and partnership coordinator, says, "We have a field experience for our pre-service teachers every single year they are here ­ freshmen have a three-week field experience at the end of their first year to see whether they really want to teach or not. After their sophomore year, they again spend three weeks working with small groups and then large groups of pupils. In their junior year they have the partnership semester for methods and practicum, and in their senior year a semester of student teaching.

This type of program almost guarantees that our students will be extraordinarily well prepared for the classroom."

In addition to Dr. Kirk, four other professors serve as partnership instructors: Barbara Chesler, Deborah Frazier, William Owings and James Riley. In each partnership, the support of the public school administration and the classroom teachers has allowed these professors and the Longwood students to do something special.

So special that teachers, professors and Longwood students have written articles for publications and made presentations to national conferences about their partnership experiences.

Dr. Kirk and students Stacie Crooks, Cynthia Frazier, Kelley Gilbert, and Melissa White presented "Testimonials from the Field" to a national education conference at the University of South Carolina in March 2000. Last summer, teachers Michelle Angle and Loretta Cencia accompanied the partnership professors to a conference in St. Louis to showcase their work. Professors Chesler, Kirk and Frazier along with teachers from Prince Edward County and partnership students will discuss the program at a national conference in Baltimore this fall.

The partnership semester held valuable lessons for Juan Bernedo. He says that he learned how to team teach, and he also learned that there are many aspects to being a good teacher, including taking work home, attending faculty meetings and even planning a PTA "Family Night." He adds, "Teaching really requires a lot of paperwork. It made me realize you definitely have to develop good time management to be a teacher. It's a lot of work."

 Juan's eagerness to add to his schedule a few hours per week of individual tutoring at the elementary school and his eagerness to be back at Longwood for a semester of student teaching confirm that he found the rewards to be well worth the work.

Judy McReynolds
Associate Editor


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