Neag School Helps Hartford-Area High School Students Prepare for Future Teaching Careers

<p>Veteran teacher Kerry Swistro, right, speaks with other teachers at Hartford's Bulkeley High School about the school's new Teacher Preparatory Academy, as Rene Roselle, second from right, an assistant clinical professor in the Neag School of Education, listens. Photo by Robert A. Frahm</p>
Veteran teacher Kerry Swistro, right, speaks with other teachers at Hartford's Bulkeley High School about the school's new Teacher Preparatory Academy, as Rene Roselle, second from right, an assistant clinical professor in the Neag School of Education, listens. Photo by Robert A. Frahm

The path to a teaching career usually begins in college, but the University of Connecticut is helping to design an unusual teacher training program aimed at high school students.

UConn’s Neag School of Education is developing coursework at Hartford’s Bulkeley High School for a new Teacher Preparatory Academy that officials hope will encourage more students, especially those from minority groups, to become teachers.

The academy, believed to be one of the only programs of its kind in the nation, will open this fall at Bulkeley, where more than 90 percent of the students are black or Hispanic.

We’re modeling this after UConn’s teacher preparation program, … modifying it to fit a high school academy,” says Rene Roselle, a clinical professor in Neag’s Department of Teacher Education and a liaison to Bulkeley.

UConn helped design the new academy along with other higher education partners, including Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Hartford, Saint Joseph College, and Capital Community College.

“When school administrators approached us to help with the design of the new academy, we jumped at the chance,” says Marijke Kehrhahn, associate dean of the Neag School, who has been director of Neag’s teacher education programs for five years.

Officials hope to attract more students into a profession that has had difficulty recruiting minority applicants.

“One of my biggest frustrations is there is a huge shortage of minority teachers,” says Kerry Swistro, a veteran Bulkeley teacher who will help run the new academy. “Our goal here is to grow our own. … It would be great to have them come back to teach here in Hartford.”

In Connecticut, members of minority groups make up more than one-third of public school students but only 7 percent of public school teachers, state figures show. The figure for teachers is closer to 25 percent in urban districts such as Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven, but it is still well below the proportion of minority students in those districts.

Despite these shortages, minority students account for only about 10 percent of the enrollment in teacher preparation programs across Connecticut – a figure that has remained unchanged for the past decade, according to a report presented to the legislature last year by the state’s regional education service centers.

In addition to a shortage of minority teachers, schools in Connecticut also face shortages of teachers in specific subject areas such as mathematics, science, and special education, according to state reports.

The new academy at Bulkeley “is a cutting-edge, novel way to address local, national, and state shortages,” says Roselle.

As more students from underrepresented groups such as African-Americans and Hispanics enter careers in education, she says, “the end result is it will change the face of teaching so that more students can identify with the teachers they have.”

Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Reyes, a Bulkeley junior, is one of about 75 students in the academy’s first class. Reyes, who is Puerto Rican, says he became enthused about a teaching career after spending a week at a summer orientation program for the academy.

“At first, I thought teaching was an OK job, but I learned teaching was more than that – a way to reach out to people, inspire them,” says Reyes, who mentioned English and art as subjects he’d like to teach. “I deeply love English. I love poetry, all that stuff. It’s a passion for me.”

He adds, “I want to mold people into believing they can go to college.”

The Teacher Preparatory Academy is one of several academies already under way or in planning as part of the Hartford Public Schools “All Choice” program. The academies focus on career themes such as engineering, nursing, law, journalism, and culinary arts. They are designed to offer rigorous coursework and prepare students for college.

At Bulkeley, students in the teacher preparatory academy will take academically challenging courses, take part in teaching experiences such as tutoring and mentoring, and be able to earn college credits or attend seminars at area colleges and universities, Roselle says.

Along with standard academic courses such as English, history, and math, students will take education courses such as “Technology in the Classroom” and “Human Growth and Development.” In addition, teachers at the academy will design specialized elective courses modeling exemplary teaching approaches around themes such as public speaking, science fairs, or art.

Roselle says the academy eventually will expand to enroll about 200 high school juniors and seniors, increasing the pool of prospective applicants for college-level teacher training programs. In its mission statement, the academy pledges to make students “competitive candidates for seats and scholarships at high-ranking colleges and universities.”

“We think these students from Bulkeley are going to be highly sought after,” Roselle says, adding that colleges and universities that are looking to enroll aspiring teachers, “are going to know about Bulkeley.”