Anna Powell ’13, Landon School

This January, I had the pleasure to spend three days at the Landon School, a boys school in D.C., with David Armstrong ‘70. This Cottage Club alumnus and fellow History concentrator welcomed me to his sprawling campus in Bethesda, offering me a packed schedule. I spent a day in each school division – lower (3-5th), middle (6-8th), and upper (9-12th). Each day meant the opportunity to sit in on a class or two, which Mr. Armstrong’s assistant Patti generously arranged to be of the historical persuasion. I got to observe what it means to “know boys” the way only a top-notch school like Landon can. Hoping to maximize the value of the experience, I kept a notebook with me – a sizeable portion of which is now filled with observations and “notes to self” about working at an educational institution. 

Not only was I able to see the teachers in action, but I also got to sit down with them and hear about their career paths. Many took surprising turns, but all of them concluded with satisfaction at Landon. The boys I met shared this same positive attitude. Those I met were well dressed, well mannered, and respectful. At the request of a teacher, a fourth grade boy walked me to class. On the way, he gallantly asked, “How has your experience at Landon been so far?” The maturity and sincerity of the question completely caught me off guard, but I assured him that I was very pleased with everything and everyone.

I spent a part of each day with the music department. My father grew up in D.C., so I had heard of Landon before – generally as a strong competitor in athletics. I did not expect to find the real gem of the school to be its music program, but at the end of the first afternoon, it was unmistakable. Run by the veteran musician Earl Jackson and his crew of geniuses, the band, orchestra, choir, and hand bell classes were beyond impressive. I found myself envying even the lower school boys for their luck in studying music at Landon.

David Armstrong and Anna

Mr. Armstrong took me to important meetings which fell during my visit, including a calendar meeting, a development meeting, and a big picture meeting for division heads. By the end of my three days, I felt I had an insider’s view into the individual parts of a quality independent school – as well as their sum. I learned so much about the private school environment. I can now actually picture applying for jobs in education and eventually taking one, an idea which before seemed hopelessly abstract. If this Princeternship comes up again, I wholeheartedly recommend it. I could not have had a warmer reception or a more useful set of experiences. Mr. Armstrong and his crew were fabulous hosts, and I could not be more pleased with my Intercession.

Allison Kruk ’15, Citizen Schools

Before attending this Princeternship, I did some research into education reform, watching documentaries like “Waiting for Superman” and “The Lottery” as well as reading the articles provided to me by my alumni host Sylvia Monreal ‘10. I didn’t consider myself an expert on education reform by any means, but I thought that I had a pretty good idea of the issues surrounding education in this country and the possible solutions to those issues. I imagined that if only the education system fostered dedicated, passionate teachers who were fully aware of their enormous responsibility to impart knowledge onto their students, all children would display the drive to learn and consequently, would perform better in school. However, after observing the Citizen Schools program at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Newark, New Jersey, I realized how simplified my model for education reform was. Educating students at a school like this one where only 16% of seventh graders displayed proficiency in reading and language and only 20% of seventh graders displayed proficiency in math is not simply a matter of introducing “good” teachers into the classroom. Each and every Citizen Schools teacher I observed was exceptional in their selfless and seemingly infinite drive to help their students to not only learn basic skills like fractions but also to make thoughtful connections between the classroom and the “real world.” Yet, to truly change a student’s life and put them on the path toward a college education and a meaningful career does not just require good teachers, I soon realized. To accomplish this gargantuan task means changing the students’ mindsets, combating other potential factors like broken home lives and the negative values imparted onto them by their peers, families, and the surrounding culture of the area – a feat that would seem impossible to many.

However, to the teachers I observed at Citizen Schools, this feat was just another day at the office. Watching them meticulously construct lesson plans and seamlessly conduct class in a chaotic environment gave me a newfound respect for the profession. Specifically, I remember walking into the class Sylvia was subbing on my first day at the Princeternship. Although these were not her normal students nor was this her normal responsibility at the workplace, Sylvia took on the task masterfully, leading a quiet group of about five or six girls in their homework in the midst of the turmoil that is the combination of a hot afternoon and tired children. The gentle way she interacted with the students was extraordinary and was mirrored in numerous other classes I observed. For instance, seeing Mr. Taylor help the kids with their homework on the second day of my Princeternship was like watching a conductor direct a world-class symphony. Keeping the class under control, he deftly went from desk to desk, using carefully constructed questions to encourage his students to arrive at the answer independently, fostering personal growth and self-reliance. Observing Ms. Lopez conduct a discussion on whether the wealthy have a responsibility to help the poor or seeing Mr. W begin a conversation with his students on the link between education and poverty produced similar feelings of amazement in me. And these are just a few isolated examples – every day at Citizen Schools was a new opportunity for me to look at the inspiring work of these teachers, giving me hope for the future of education in this country.

This Princeternship truly changed my perspective in a way that no other experience in my life has. It taught me to look for the positive in all situations, to devote yourself fully to what you love, and to persist even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. It opened my eyes to a completely different world, forcing me out of the Orange Bubble mentality and broadening my outlook as a whole. Finally, it solidified my desire to do a program like the Citizen Schools teaching fellowship after I graduate so that I too can work toward the betterment of the American education system. I really cannot thank my Princetern host Sylvia and all of the teachers and staff I encountered throughout these three days enough for allowing me to experience this extraordinary opportunity.

 

Lekha Kanchinadam ’15, Brooklyn Latin School

I had a hard time finding the Brooklyn Latin School. As I approached the block where I knew it was supposed to be, after having double and triple-checked the address of the school, all I could see was a grand stone building, obviously labeled “Public School 250.” I asked the crossing guard where TBLS was, and she pointed to the Public School. I walked in, and realized that TBLS was fully contained within two floors of this building that they share with a public elementary school. It was the first of many times that my expectations were surpassed during my time as a “Princetern” with the headmaster of the Brooklyn Latin School, Jason Griffiths ’97.

The Brooklyn Latin School, founded in 2006, is modeled after the Boston Latin School, the first public high school in America. TBLS has lifted the centuries-old traditions of the Boston Latin School and transplanted them to Bushwick Avenue. The students wear uniforms, learn four years of Latin, call their teachers “magistra” and “magister,” and perform declamations in class and several times a year in front of the entire school.

My experiences for the three days of the Princeternship were incredibly rewarding. I had the opportunity to shadow Mr. Griffiths in his meetings with various members of the faculty, including check-ins with the grade-level leaders, college counselor, department heads, and office staff, as well as members of the community that are working with the school to build mentorship programs, exchange facilities, etc. During lunch I sat in on two interviews that Mr. Griffiths conducted for an open position in the History department. Observing him meet with his faculty gave me first hand insight on interactions between teachers and administration, and gave me a full appreciation of the eye for detail that Mr. Griffiths is able to maintain even as the school, and his responsibilities outside the classroom, grow. Observing the interviews he conducted was incredibly informative, especially because as an aspiring teacher I will eventually find myself on the other side of the table being interviewed.

Jason Griffiths and Lekha

When I was not joining Mr. Griffiths for meetings, I was able to sit in on classes to observe. TBLS follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum and conducts most classes using the Socratic method, so many classes that I observed consisted almost entirely of student-based discussion. I was able to sit in on classes as varied as freshman level Art History, sophomore year Health, and Higher Level Latin, where I stopped taking notes about the class, and started paying attention as if I was a student too. The faculty was welcoming and warm, and the students consistently impressed me with how well-spoken and confident they were. Sitting in on classes also posed a sharp contrast to the administrative work that Mr. Griffiths is primarily involved with. As TBLS grows, his responsibilities will mainly focus on keeping the school well-funded and well-run. One thing this Princeternship helped me confirm was that I would rather primarily spend time in the classroom with students.

My last day at TBLS, as luck would have it, was the day of their penultimate Public Declamation, an opportunity for students (selected by audition) to declaim a poem or prose passage in front of the entire school. Public Declamation is something to look forward to at TBLS, no doubt. The excitement in the auditorium was palpable, and though students are told to withhold applause until all the declaimers have performed, after each declamation the audience could barely contain their applause. One student declaimed Catullus 101 in both English and Latin, while another performed the monologue “Mad as Hell” from the 1976 movie Network. It was an electrifying performance. At one point, she demanded from the audience: “I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” For a moment, I thought someone would spring up from their seat. “Mad as Hell” was the last declamation of the afternoon, and the declaimer’s last line prompted absolute uproar. Public declamation gave me chills, and I was sad to leave TBLS shortly afterward.

There is a lot of discussion today about education reform, education policy, and the state of education in America, especially in urban areas. My experience with Mr. Griffiths gave me an opportunity to watch the work of education reform—the real, on-the-ground work of it. It helped me understand the importance of quality teaching and maintaining a cohesive school philosophy. The Brooklyn Latin School offers, as Mr. Griffiths described it to me, “an unapologetically liberal arts education.” It isn’t the right school for everyone, but for the students that have graduated in the last two years, and have gone to college, it has worked well. What especially struck me was that Mr. Griffiths did not start his career as a teacher with grandiose visions that he would single handedly save the system of American education, but instead founded a school in line with his education values, and is, one graduating class at a time, improving the niche that he has made. My Princeternship gave me valuable exposure to a wonderful school, and certainly inspired me to pursue a path that will bring me back to high school, not as a student or observer, but as a teacher.

Antonia Hyman ’13, Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School

Day One: March 19, 2012

Today was my first day working at Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, NY. The school day began at 8:00 for students and ended at 4:30, which is longer than most. Additionally, many students stay for extra tutoring, which meant that my day ended at 5:45. Working these hours provided me with a realistic view of what life would be like as a teacher.

When I first arrived at the school, Stephanie Greenberg ‘04 showed me around the two floors of the school. All of the hallways were decorated with banners, and posters promoting college education. I also met with several teachers, the main office staff, the academic Dean, the behavior Dean, the principal, and the recruiting director. I got a chance to sit in on several classrooms and observe the teaching styles of various teachers. Notably, most of the teachers were fairly young and had graduated from prestigious universities. Each homeroom was themed according to the alma mater of the teacher, which further enhanced the culture of “College for All.” Stephanie’s room had a huge Princeton banner that said “Class of 2020,” the anticipated college graduation year of her students. The overall vibe of the school seemed to be set by the positive attitudes of the teachers and the emphasis that college was an attainable goal for every child.

Day Two: March 20, 2012

Yesterday, I sat in on over fifteen different classes and observed more than ten teachers, but today I got a chance to engage directly with the kids. When I led the tutoring session at the end of the day, I realized that I felt extremely comfortable in front of the classroom. However, I also learned that I would need to take a firmer stance as a teacher, than as a college student simply mentoring middle school kids. As a twenty-year old student it felt so strange to be standing in a position of authority, but I learned to embrace it because my students were looking at me to set the tone of the classroom.

Overall, today’s experience confirmed my impression of the field, however it did offer some new insights. It was extremely beneficial to experience the daily routine of a teacher. I also learned solid techniques that I would apply in my classroom, such as using precise statistical techniques to track each student. Additionally, I learned about building consistency from class to class by employing the same jargon, and holding students to the same standards. 

Stephanie Greenberg and Antonia

Day Three: March 21, 2012

Today I helped with a lot of the administrative tasks in the main office. Specifically, I helped the school with recruiting efforts for the incoming fifth grade class by calling local organizations to explain what Williamsburg would offer. This gave me a great chance to see the operational functions of the school, which generally take place behind the scene.

This Princeternship was extremely valuable to me. As someone with an interest in education, it was great to get in front of a classroom. The opportunity may be thought of as a type of career test-drive. Stephanie made the experience even more incredible for me. It was such a pleasure to spend three days with someone so passionate about her work and willing to share her experiences with me. The many benefits accrued during such a short time frame is even more reason for students to apply to the Princeternship Program. As a student with a hectic schedule, the Princeternship opportunity provided me with an in-depth career experience in a relatively short amount of time – obviously ideal for a Princeton student.

Launa Greer ’14, Citizen Schools

My interest in education has manifested itself in different ways over time, from making mini books on different subjects as a fifth grader, to writing and communicating ideas as a beat reporter for The Daily Princetonian.  However, serving as an advisor to two high school girls last summer and listening to educators talk about their profession through the campus group Students for Education Reform this past fall inspired me to explore teaching as a possible career.

I decided that a Princeternship with Citizen Schools— an innovative afterschool program helping students become academically successful, with an eye towards college—would provide a great opportunity to learn about effective teaching methods and the specific challenges of urban education.  The Princeternship did not disappoint, and I was very thankful to have been able to participate in the program.

DAY ONE

At 10:17 am, I boarded the Dinky with a copy of the NJ Transit schedule on hand, along with fellow Princetern Allison.  After traveling to Princeton Junction, we hopped on another train and headed to Newark Penn Station, where we talked and ate brunch before catching a bus ride to the site of Citizen Schools: Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School (K-8).

After signing in at the school’s security desk, we were led upstairs by the campus director, Mr. Jose, to the Citizen Schools staff office.  There we exchanged greetings with our host, Sylvia Monreal ‘10, a two-year teaching fellow who had graduated from Princeton with a degree in Politics.  Sylvia introduced us to a member of the office who was prepping for the day’s fun team-building activities (“flick the cup” and jellybean relay races) and then gave us a quick tour of the building.  Afterward we went outside and talked on the blacktop, where the students were having recess.

Citizen Schools partners with public schools to provide afterschool homework support, math and language arts instruction, college visits, and apprenticeships for students in grades 6-8.  Sylvia explained to us that although students normally elect to join the program, the Martin Luther King site is unique in that student participation is mandatory.  Because the school is rated as “Failing,” the program’s goal has been to raise students’ test scores and grades as a “turn-around” approach.

Two years after the program’s implementation, scores and grades have gradually improved.  However, Citizen Schools faces a new challenge because the regional superintendent has announced that the school, along with a number of other low-performing schools in Newark, will close at the end of the year and be replaced with charter schools.  In the face of all the uncertainty regarding the future of the school and the Newark Citizen Schools program, the teaching fellows work hard to keep the students motivated and focused on their work, which I find very admirable.

Launa and Citizen Schools Staff

While on the blacktop, a number of students introduced themselves to Allison and me and asked us where we were from and what work we were doing.  Meeting the Citizen Schools staff was also great.  Although most of the fellows were busy preparing lessons, a few talked with us about why they had joined the program and discussed the challenges and rewards of teaching.  One staff member who had majored in Theater as an undergraduate said that he drew upon his acting skills frequently to engage students.  He also mentioned that the students had put on a play about bullying in line with the new bullying laws set by the state that went very well.  Another teaching fellow said that he tried to meet the students on their level—playing basketball outside with them on the playground, for example—so that he might get to know them better and earn their trust and respect.
That  afternoon, I rotated through several different classrooms managed by teaching fellows and recorded observations about student-teacher interactions and teachers’ pacing of different components of their math and English lessons (e.g. 3-minute hook, 5-minute introduction of new material, 10 minutes of guided practice, etc.).   Although several students acted out during the program, the teachers handled the misbehaviors very well and with great patience.  Overall, I thought the first day highlighted some of the challenges educators might face on a day-to-day basis.

DAY TWO

When Allison and I arrived at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School for our second day of the Princeternship, we were immediately recruited by a teaching fellow to help with lesson preparations.  Afterwards we talked with another fellow who showed us a program he used to analyze student grades and standardized test scores and create more personalized and effective lesson plans.  For me, the day as a whole involved much reading and discussion of teaching methodology:  Sylvia had sent us a number of resources the fellows used to create lesson plans, such as the book Teach Like a Champion and their own Lesson Internalization Plan (I-Plan).  Both stressed the need to hold students accountable for giving answers in the classroom and for teachers to push students to provide more accurate explanations, in complete sentences that helped them better express their ideas.

After observing teachers in the classroom, I had the opportunity to sit in on two apprenticeships, the term Citizen Schools uses to refer to specialized modules like engineering, film, marketing, or dance taught by local community members. The first apprenticeship I observed involved culinary arts; students made homemade cookies from flour, egg, vanilla, oil, etc., some of them cooking for the very first time.  The second apprenticeship was engineering-based and involved making mini “Bug-bots” using clay.  Students in the apprenticeship constructed a simple circuit to light up a pair of LEDs, which I thought was a really creative way to teach principles of electronics.  One of the students was very interested in electronics and told Allison and me that he intended to participate in a local LEGO robotics competition offered for middle school students.

DAY THREE

Although Sylvia had to take an absence from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School on the last day of our Princeternship, Allison and I arrived on campus before receiving her notification and stayed to continue the day’s observations.  After helping one of the program directors with office tasks—creating two monthly calendars to hang on the wall—we entered into classrooms again to shadow teachers.

While in class, I met two students who were curious about where I was from and what college was like.  I was happy to speak with them and answer their questions before they had to begin their homework assignments.  During the lesson period, I thought that the instructor did a great job of using the Socratic Method to ask students to identify the mood and theme of their assigned poem and provide evidence for their claims.  In another classroom, an instructor played a science review game that involved answering a question after catching a kickball with one hand.

At the end of the classroom observation period, I sat in on a documentary apprenticeship led by a team of students from Rutgers.  The goal of the apprenticeship was for students to make a mini-documentary using Flip cameras about a social issue they cared about.  In past weeks, the students had decided to make a film advocating for the construction of a park in their neighborhood so children and teens would have somewhere to play.  I thought the Rutgers students and Citizen Schools teaching fellow that assisted them did a great job prompting the students to think critically about how they might lobby for the construction of the park as filmmakers.  To get the students thinking, the instructors asked questions like: “Who do you want to interview for the film?  Who would support the construction of a park (e.g. parents, youth, and community members)?  Who would oppose it (e.g. police, community members against tax increases), and why?”  Overall, the project seemed very positive—the students were learning how to think critically; gaining confidence and sharpening interpersonal skills by learning how to conduct interviews; gaining technological literacy by learning how to use a camera and edit video; and finally, making a direct positive impact on their community.

Observing the three student apprenticeships was one of the highlights of my time at Citizen Schools. The experience showed me the creativity possible in writing and implementing lesson plans and how such lessons could produce benefits for students beyond the classroom.  Coming out of the Princeternship, I think I would like to explore opportunities for two-year teaching fellowships post-graduation.  I am very thankful for Sylvia Monreal, Citizen Schools, and the Princeternship administrators for making this learning experience possible.