Students from local university train at West Meade Early Education Center

(Left to right:) Student interns Colleen Gray, Eunice Kim and Deirdre Henry talk about their day in the classroom at West Meade EEC. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)

Three student interns from the University of Maryland are learning firsthand how to teach and serve young children through a partnership with the West Meade Early Education Center.

The interns are enrolled in the Early Childhood/Early Childhood Special Education program at UMD. The university sponsors the yearlong internship for seniors.

“The administration and teaching staff are excited to have the interns with us as they develop teaching skills that will enable them to become highly successful at the conclusion of their senior year,” said Carole Janesko, principal of West Meade. “This is a strong program that is needed.”

West Meade serves children in pre-K, kindergarten and Early Childhood Intervention.

The program allows interns to apply what they have learned in UMD to “mentored teaching experiences” in public school classrooms, said Judi Anderson, professional development coordinator for the EC/ECSE program.

The goal is to “prepare knowledgeable and skilled teachers who utilize theory, research and pedagogy to respectfully and responsively teach and positively affect the lives of children, with and without disabilities, who are diverse in culture and socioeconomic status,” Anderson said.

West Meade was recommended for the partnership by the Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ Professional Development Schools.

The school was recommended because of the age of the student body and the “critical need” for dual certification in early childhood education and special education, Janesko said.

Deirdre Henry, Colleen Gray and Eunice Kim are the student interns. In their junior year, they selected a specialty track of studying children from birth to kindergarten.

Each intern has been matched with a kindergarten teacher who is their mentor for the semester. Henry works with Greg Mueller. Gray works with Gina Sullivan and Kim works wtih Tracy Dunn. The interns and mentor-teachers work together Tuesdays and Thursdays for a full day.

In the spring, the students will intern in a special education class. The students do have the option of performing their preschool special education internship at West Meade in the spring.

The internship is an intensive and cross-departmental program between the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology and the Department of Counseling, Higher Education and Special Education in the university’s College of Education.

When the interns graduate in May, they will receive a Bachelor of Science degree and are eligible for state certification in both early childhood education and early childhood special education.

Henry, Gray and Kim must complete and submit lesson plans and work closely with their mentor-teachers to identify national and state standards that are aligned with the Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ curriculum. They must determine each lesson’s learning objective, assessment tools and instructional strategies.

The interns are required to submit four formal lessons by the end of the semester — two for their teacher and two for their supervisor. Their lesson plans are scored and evaluated using the National Association for Education and the Council for Exceptional Children standards.

“The most important thing I’m learning that will help me when I’m certified is being able to control and organize a classroom that has children with and without disabilities,” Gray said.

“I love working with younger children and especially with children who have special needs. I want to be able to give a voice to children who may not be able to speak up for themselves. I’m inspired and strongly encouraged to shape young children’s minds.”

Henry said she has been leading small groups of children, occasionally leading group activities and observing classroom management strategies. She also participates in parent-teacher conferences and attends staff meetings.

“The classroom management strategies that I’m learning are very valuable,” Henry said. “If you can get the children to respect and listen to you, then you can begin the process of helping them learn.”

Henry is from a military family. Her uncle served in the Marines and is now a member of the New Jersey Air National Guard.

“I have lived near Fort Meade my entire life,” she said. “I have had military neighbors come and go throughout my childhood.”

Mueller said he hopes Henry “gets a feel” for what it is to be a teacher.

“Not just planning activities and following a pacing guide, but to be able to assess students and understand their needs,” he said. “You must be flexible in this job.

“As a teacher, you wear many different hats — counselor, educator, reporter, parental figure and mediator. To be an effective teacher, you need to be able to wear those hats and change them seamlessly.”

Kim said the internship allows her “to be reflective” on the type of teacher she hopes to be.

“By actively participating in classroom routines and taking feedback from my mentor teacher, I feel this experience will help me to become an effective educator,” she said.

“Before the school year [began], I became familiar with the school’s policies and the daily schedule in order to effectively assist my mentor in establishing rules and routines in the classroom.”

Frances Tolbert is the university supervisor at West Meade and serves as the liaison between UMD and West Meade.

Tolbert is responsible for conducting formal and informal observations of the interns, evaluating their teaching skills and knowledge, and coaching the interns to complete all their required assignments.

She said the internship program prepares the students for real-life experiences in the classroom.

“It gives them a role model and helps them develop as an individual instructor,” Tolbert said.

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