By Crystal McGough
This spring school semester, Clay-Chalkville Middle and High School will be serving as pilot schools for a $150,000 American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund grant that has recently been awarded to the Jefferson County-AFT. The grant is called “For Teachers, By Teachers.”
“We’re excited about this grant,” said Vi Parramore, the president of the JCAFT. “It’s going to mean a half million dollars to this school district and it’s two schools in your area.”
While schools throughout the Jefferson County School District are participating in this national grant in many ways, CCMS and CCHS are the only pilot schools in the district.
According to a press release on Sept. 26, the local union will work in collaboration with the Jefferson County Board of Education, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the principals and staffs of CCMS and CCHS. The goal of the project is to help student teachers at the university and practicing classroom teachers at the two schools to write and teach units that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
Former CCHS English teacher Ann Foster is the grant’s project director. She is currently on loan from the Jefferson County Board of Education to serve in this position.
“(The program) involves the teachers from Clay-Chalkville Middle School, Clay-Chalkville High School, and student teachers from UAB,” Foster said. “They are working collaboratively to write lessons that are aligned to Common Core.”
Common Core State Standards are standards that have been adopted by Alabama, 45 other states and the District of Columbia to make sure that American students are prepared to enter college or the workforce with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.
A unit development team has been comprised of 20 teachers throughout the school district to write curriculum units for the teachers and student teachers to use.
In addition, CCMS has seven pilot teachers and CCHS has eight pilot teachers that will work with student teachers from UAB. Eleven “pre-service” teachers from UAB are currently involved in the program.
“There are lots of people that are involved,” Foster said. “There are many arms to it.”
The pre-service teachers, or pre-student teachers, are students of Dr. Tonya Perry, an assistant professor in the secondary English language arts program at the UAB School of Education. Perry is currently teaching a Methods course for future student teachers at CCHS on Tuesday evenings.
“Before a student can actually come in and do student teaching, he or she has to have had 50 hours of observation in classes and have done some teaching before they’re actually given their student teaching assignment,” Foster said. “Now, pre-service teachers are already in the two schools doing observation hours with the teachers they have each been assigned. They have set up schedules with their cooperating teachers.”
Some of these students are still in classes at the university and some are working part-time jobs, so their observation hours work around their schedules. Many come on Tuesdays, since they will already be at the school for the Methods course, Foster said.
“They have become a part of our culture,” she said. “We believe that them doing their student teaching in a place where they have already met the students and…have a relationship with those students…is going to enhance the way that their student teaching goes. It’s very exciting.”
Foster said that before this grant, student teachers would usually not find out where they would be teaching until December, and then begin teaching in January. Because the pre-service teachers will be doing their student teaching at the same schools where they did their observation hours, the students are able to become familiar with their student teacher, which makes for a more natural transition, she said.
“We believe it’s going to be a kind of win-win,” Foster said. “Certainly, at the center of all this, the most important thing is how it affects the students, our students as well as the student teachers.”
Foster said that about four of the pre-service teachers are expected to begin their student teaching in the spring. Others will take another Methods course and some will go back to the university to do more course work before beginning their student teaching next fall.
“In this methods class, they’re at all stages of their educational process,” she said. “It’s not like everybody’s in the same place.”
The “For Teachers, By Teachers” grant will fund the program by paying the students for their mileage to the middle and high school, paying a stipend to the pilot teachers for their extra hours and involvement, paying a stipend to the unit development team, and funding Foster’s salary as the program director
It also funds training for the unit development team and Foster, as well as providing national resources for the local program.
“It is a collaborative effort between the JCAFT and the national offices, between the Jefferson County Board of Education and between the schools,” Foster said. “I’m the liaison between all of those.”
This is the first year that the Jefferson County has received this grant, but Foster said they hope to continue the grant and program for two more years.
“Our hope is that after the first year, we will be able to expand the grant into other schools and into other disciplines,” she said. “We’re hoping to perhaps bring social studies or science, another discipline, on board, and then we also hope to bring other schools on board, as well.”