An Oakland University-Avondale Schools partnership will have college students work closely with local schools. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
The new partnership between Oakland University and an Auburn Hills-based school district promises to make some groundbreaking innovations in helping K-12 students learn — and in assisting college education majors to become better teachers.
The partnership opened last month at Auburn Elementary, which is part of Avondale Schools. It offers an expanded twist on the traditional student teaching system, in which college students complete their degree work and then go into a classroom to observe and get some real life experience.
If successful, this program is a win-win scenario for all those involved.
Initially, about 60 Oakland students will sit in on elementary school classes. They will progress to tutoring young students and possibly serve as teacher aides, helping small groups of children with their studies.
Many traditional student teachers don’t see a classroom until they graduate, but this program puts students as early as their freshman year in a local school, notes Charles Robert Maxfield, interim dean and associate professor of education at Oakland University.
“What we want to be able to say as a university is, if you come here to be teacher, a portion of your time will be spent in a real school,” says Maxfield. “Every university has some kind of student teaching program, but we’re saying from the first time you come to this school, at all student grade levels, you’ll get field experience.”
The project also involves classroom teachers discussing their concerns with college professors. The program promotes conversations between those teachers in the field and those instructors in the college lecture halls.
A third dimension to this program, as Avondale Superintendent George Heitsch says, is wrap-around services associated with the partnership.
“Another benefit for the Avondale School District is access to quality programs at OU,” says Heitsch.
He says there are resources at the university that will be available to students and families in the district. Counselors, social workers and medical students could also work with Avondale staff.
For example, Heitsch says, counseling student interns will come into the schools and learn from regular counselors while families will have access to the counseling services at Oakland. Also, medical students might work with fourth- and fifth-graders on healthy lifestyle choices.
Maxfield says the university wants to expand the program to at least five other school districts this year. Officials are optimistic it could become a model for school districts throughout the state.
And it should.
Improving Michigan’s schools is on ongoing concern. And over the past decade, it has become even more critical to equip youths with the tools they need to compete in a global economy.
To do this, the skills and expertise of our teachers must be enhanced. Teachers are continually shown to have the most significant impact on a student’s success, outside the home.
The Avondale-Oakland partnership hopes to succeed on two fronts — boosting the learning abilities of students in grades K-12, while also adding to the field experience of teachers in training.
The program holds promise.
Teaching is a skill that takes a lot of time to learn, and this hands-on approach is a great start.