SUNY Fredonia’s Fall 2011 SUTEC Teacher Candidates (from left) were Erin O’Brien-Mazza, Clarissa Belile, Oriel Romano, Chris Piro and Emily Entress.
By Emily R. Bird, '12
New York City is a cultural melting pot that provides many opportunities for those who are adventurous and ambitious.
Even though Fredonia is located eight hours away, students from the College of Education are finding a way to span that distance and add their energy to the City That Never Sleeps.
SUNY Fredonia education majors are required to complete two student teaching experiences, and for those seeking a far different field placement than those available in Western New York, the SUNY Urban Teacher Education Center (SUTEC) offers preparation programs in the New York City public schools.
These experiences train prospective educators to become competent, confident professionals in urban, multicultural environments. This comes not only from the challenges of teaching in an urban classroom, but also from the life experiences outside of the classroom which the program offers. For example, SUTEC teacher candidates are often surprised during their first student birthday party as they hear “Happy Birthday” sung in English – and five other languages as well! In addition, the majority of SUTEC student teachers live in the Parkchester Apartments in the Bronx, which immerses them in the region’s culture by having them live among the city’s residents instead of with other college students.
The New York City public school district is huge and needs to steadily recruit certified teachers. The SUTEC was launched in the fall of 2001 with the enthusiastic endorsement of both the SUNY and New York City school chancellors. Today, SUTEC assists all 17 SUNY campuses that offer teacher preparation programs, securing student teaching placements for more than 100 students annually.
Natalie Lukas is the SUTEC director. Through her personal approach to securing placements, the program has grown in quality and quantity. Not only is it committed to helping schools in need, but student teachers can expect excellent placements in schools that have been a part of the program for years. Lukas believes that SUTEC and SUNY Fredonia will continue to build upon their relationship because of the trends she is seeing.
“New York City has become a magnet for many of the (Fredonia) music students who are anxious to not only student teach, but share in the rich musical world that is represented by the region,” said Lukas.
“They experience music education in some of the finest schools and have opportunities to hear every genre of music in a wide variety of venues during their free time.”
Lukas credits Ann Marie Loughlin, SUNY Fredonia’s director of Field Experiences, for working with SUTEC to develop a model that allows student teachers to spend their time between traditional public and charter schools. This is important because charter schools represent tremendous growth and employment opportunities for new teachers.
“Student teachers have found this opportunity to be both rewarding and challenging, as they have become personally acquainted with this magnificent city and the backgrounds and cultures of their students,” said Loughlin. “No student has ever regretted going.”
Katie Moran, ’11, who graduated with an early childhood education major and a minor in Spanish, couldn’t agree more. She participated in the SUTEC program last spring and is now employed as a pre-school teacher at a child care center in the Albany region.
“The SUTEC experience helped me to achieve this goal because it provided me with an opportunity to teach and work with people of a different culture, which made me more open-minded and aware of issues in our country,” said Moran. “I am most thankful for the cooperating teacher and school I worked with in Harlem. They gave me the chance to teach everything from reading to science, and allowed me to make my own mistakes so that I could learn and grow from them.” Moran also made a professional connection that she plans to keep throughout her career. She has kept in touch with her SUTEC school, and has already been back to visit her Harlem site supervisor and students.
Current senior Emily Entress had a similarly wonderful experience. “Student teaching in New York City is an experience that puts you out of your comfort zone in the best ways imaginable,” she explained. “You are forced to learn, adapt, and grow as you interact with high-need students in diverse schools. Pair this with the chance to live in such a vibrant city, and you have an incredibly worthwhile program.”
SUNY Fredonia is scheduled to send 12 new student teachers to New York City this spring, and with the results the program has generated thus far, organizers expect to see SUNY Fredonia sweatshirts roaming around the Parkchester Apartments for years to come.