Helping Create Global Citizens of a Diverse World
When students come to Penn State’s College of Education, they have a number of opportunities to explore interests that might become careers. One of those opportunities is the Philadelphia Urban Seminar (CI 295D), where students have the chance to spend two weeks in an urban environment working with mentors who are teachers in the Philadelphia School District.
Each May, approximately forty students work with mentors throughout the school district in K-12 classrooms. In the evening, students attend professional development seminars and academic classes. During the intermediate weekend, students participate in sociocultural events and community service.
The two-week, intensive course is designed to acclimate students to the cultures of the city, said Jeanine Staples, professor-in-charge for the seminar.
“While students learn the application of educational theory,” said Staples, “they have the opportunity to live as visiting members of thriving, vibrant urban contexts—neighborhoods, communities, and schools.”
Staples, an associate professor of education who supports the months-long preparation for the course and its implementation with everything from course design to logistics, said that many students benefit from the variety of experiences offered through the Philadelphia Urban Seminar.
“Experiences, such as apprenticing master teachers in urban schools and leading community service, are intersected with Penn State class sessions each evening,” said Staples. “These classes, along with the professional development workshops, provide a meaningful and unique depth to students' perspectives on what it means to be global citizens of a diverse world and life-long learning professionals."
According to Staples, professional development speakers, who have ranged from local community activists and school administrators, to the mayor of Philadelphia and nationally syndicated talk show hosts, help underscore the lessons that Staples teaches and models.
Staples said that she is proud of how the course has improved since she assumed leadership of the seminar in 2009. Under her direction, the seminar has doubled the number of enrolled students. It also has a more rigorous curriculum with a focus on understanding and adapting critical theories that students are asked to apply immediately to their practice. Staples also introduced a final project for the course.
“The curriculum includes near-graduate level research for students to engage with and utilize in their pre-practicum sites,” Staples added. “In addition, my research interests in new literacy studies brought to the course particular attention to the ways technology and social networking might enhance pre-service teacher education.”
All of the hard work is paying off, according to Staples. To explain her point, Staples referred to a 2013 blog entry from a seminar student who stated that she would never teach in an urban school and felt frightened by the rumors she heard about urban environments.
“Overall, this experience changed my views on urban teaching,” said the student in her blog. “This course also changed me. It was something I thought I would never want to do, but after these two weeks, I think I would love teaching in an urban school after graduation. The past two weeks have made me so excited to become a teacher.”
Staples said she intends to continue to strengthen the Philadelphia Urban Seminar.
“I would like to increase the forty-person cap to fifty in 2014,” said Staples. “I hope also to increase the number of placement opportunities, community service experiences, and professional development speakers. The course will only get better and continue to diversify the College of Education’s curriculum and community outreach.”