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Teacher Education Program Takes Over Plattsburgh Schools Aftercare

The Plattsburgh City School District Board of Education last Thursday unanimously approved a proposal by SUNY Plattsburgh’s teacher education unit to take over the district’s afterschool program at its elementary and middle schools in the fall.

Submitted by faculty from the Division of Education, Health, and Human Services, the proposal — called Project CONNECT — picks up the reins of the current 21st Century afterschool program, ensuring continuity of care and an increase in educational opportunities for those enrolled in the program.

Grant Funds Running Out in June

The 21st Century program was a four-year grant from the state Education Department obtained by the school district to help close achievement gaps and make positive differences in the lives of children and their families. The state grant is set to expire in June.

“One of the basic tenets of the grant was for schools to take this money, design a program and learn how to implement it so we could then carry on when the grant money dried up,” said James “Jake” Short, superintendent of Plattsburgh City Schools. “It’s not so easy, especially when we knew our school budget couldn’t afford to keep it going.”

SUNY Plattsburgh Proposal Accepted

Short said the district sent out a request for proposals, and “the college proposal came in very strong and was very exciting.”

“We wanted something that would focus on strengthening our partnership with schools,” said Dr. Michael Morgan, dean of education, health, and human services at SUNY Plattsburgh.

The Project CONNECT team — which consists of George Still, Dr. Jean Ann Hunt, Dr. Denise Simard, Jean Mockry and Sarah Hacket — maintains that it’s a natural fit for the school district because part of the mission of teacher education is getting SUNY Plattsburgh students into the field for their program of study.

“As we looked at it and thought about it, we saw how it extends the educational component of a school,” Short said.

Short said that the teacher education unit will have students doing field work, along with professors embedded in the schools. He likened it to the old campus school model.

“It allows for a laboratory for college students to have hands-on direct work with public school children; the professors are able to be involved with our teachers on a closer basis. The college will have that much more of a partnership connection with the district.”

“It is exciting,” Mockry said. “The schools will be extending their learning day, engaging our students daily.”

“We’re really looking to strengthen our partnership,” Hunt said. “We want a stronger connection with students and their families.”

Preparations Already Under Way

The Project CONNECT team has already begun preliminary plans with its students. A few students who are taking summer courses at SUNY Plattsburgh are looking at activities and experiences they can bring to the program so they can hit the ground running in the fall, Hunt said.

“We’ve already had students who have asked about the program,” she said.

SUNY Plattsburgh has always enjoyed a close relationship with area schools with regard to student teacher placement. In 2007, the teacher education program changed its field-placement component in order to get students into the schools earlier in their college career.

“It is highly stressful for teachers to allow first-year college students into their classroom,” Still said. Project CONNECT gives student teachers more opportunity to practice early.

Hunt agreed, adding that the first-year student teachers will be mentored by graduate students, “those students who already have their teaching degrees who are going on for a master’s,” Hunt said.

“That’s the piece that I love about this,” Morgan said. “We’re having our students be able to engage in those kinds of mentoring experiences. It gives them the ability to be what they want to be when they graduate.”

Elementary education students aren’t the only ones who’ll benefit. Students in speech and hearing and special education — and those whose teacher education programs are specialized in areas such as math, science, language arts and foreign languages — will be able to participate, which in turn benefits the students in the aftercare program.

“There’s an excitement,” Mockry said. “This has brought all our programs together. It has become a collaboration, and that’s exciting.”

“We’ve always had a good working relationship with SUNY Plattsburgh,” Short said. “This is just another opportunity for collaboration. The college has a large number of ready-to-go graduate and undergraduate students who want to work with our kids. They need the access. We have the need. I can’t think of a better partnership that ties our elementary-age students right on through the university system that in turn ties right back to those elementary students. We’re quite excited.”

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