Spark Students Visit Washington DC Schools
Posted on May 2, 2018
As with all other cohorts in the Master of Arts in Teaching for Social Justice program, in partnership with Spark, the 2018 class took a trip to the Washington, D.C. school district in late March this year.
In an effort to recollect their own schooling and use that understanding and experience to further pedagogy and best teaching practices, Spark students spend a full year in a K-12 classroom. Students learn alongside an experienced mentor teacher, who assists and guides them through the in’s and out’s of teaching.
An additional piece of the process of becoming a licensed teacher is spending time observing other classrooms. Spark faculty plan cohort trips to other large school districts, enabling students to spend time talking with teachers, principals, union representatives, educators, advocates and a variety of other community members engaged in educational work. Spark students have an opportunity to learn about the DC school system from a variety of teachers, students and administrators.
This year, Spark students visited 3 schools, an after-school program, the new African American Museum, and Teaching for Change – an organization that provides teachers with valuable resources, connecting the real world with classroom content.
When asked about what they learned on the trip, students responded:
“I had the opportunity to learn more about the District of Columbia schools on how they work institutionally in relation to access to economic resources. This access to resources reflects, somehow, the demographics of schools based on the area where schools are located. For instance, it is clear that D.C. is racially segregated, and that gentrification has a strong impact in D.C. neighborhoods and schools, and especially in historically black neighborhoods—as some of the teachers who I met explained it.”
“This trip informed my teaching by making me more aware of the systemic problems facing public education and how I fit into that picture. That is especially relevant to me as a teacher at [the school where I student-teach], which is a part of this push away from public education toward private schools and charters…and at [the school] I hear lots of rhetoric about the wonders of school choice. This has put it into better context for me, instead of an individual ‘student-choice’ perspective, I see the whole picture.”
After leaving Washington, D.C., Spark students then attended the 2018 NYCORE conference, where a variety of workshops were presented by teachers from across the country and world. At NYCORE, teachers come to present their classroom work and talk about what is happening in their school districts. Spark students were able to meet with presenters and other teachers with an opportunity to discuss the state of education across the country. Spark students heard from teachers organizing against school closures, growing food in their communities, working towards better conditions for their students, practicing inclusion and multiculturalism in their classrooms, and reflecting on their own education in an effort to sharpen their pedagogical approaches.
Upon their return to weekly seminar, Spark students were asked about the connections between their classrooms and those classrooms they visited in DC and heard about in New York. They responded by describing school conditions - in rural areas, the consolidation of neighborhood schools into larger town schools both affects teacher jobs and the quality of education young students receive; while in larger cities, budget cuts have similarly affected the technology available in schools and teacher salaries, both affecting the ways in which K-12 students learn. Policing and incarceration of youth are directly linked to school test scores and student drop-out rates in both rural and urban areas. All of these challenges and changes are reflected inside the classroom. Spark prepares students to investigate conditions of society and to invite their K-12 students to do the same.
Spark students are prepared by program faculty to take content knowledge and pair it with universal design techniques, integrated and culturally responsive methods, and behavior management skills inside the classroom setting.
When asked how Spark has informed his teaching, the current student remarked, “All of history is inextricably connected to the present and the Spark program forms a foundation by which we, as socially responsible citizens and lifelong learners can spring forward the next generation of people to carry us into a bright, new, twenty-first century. Upon completion, Spark students earn a Master's degree and teaching certificate in their grade level and subject of choice, but more important, we leave with the confidence and know-how to tap into our creative potential and become the positive change we wish to see in the world.”
Join us on May 12 for Spark exhibitions, at the Marlboro College facility in downtown Brattleboro (28 Vernon Street), where students present their final projects and invite discussion for continued learning.
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