Education Initiative—A Firsthand Perspective
launched in 1999, grants January Interterm fellowships
to Smith undergraduates, who intern with classroom teachers
in urban schools in New York, Boston, and Springfield.
Most fellows are placed in classrooms and schools of Smith
alumnae—many of whom were introduced to urban teaching
through their own fellowship experiences. The program was
originally funded by a grant from Debra Gastler '75, with
additional funding provided by Alison Overseth '80, Jane
Cecil '50, Jeanne La Croix Crocker '45 and the family of Claire Abisalih '12. "The generosity
of our alumnae have enabled us to provide students with
an opportunity to learn first-hand about great teaching,
school reform, and the critical issues facing urban educators," notes Urban
Ed program founder Sam Intrator, professor of education
and child study.
Urban Ed fellows lived
with Smith alumnae in New York City while teaching at public
schools in the city last month. Some of the fellows wrote
about their experience for the Gate.
By Emma Kimata ‘14
This was my second year participating
in the Urban Education Initiative after a rewarding experience
last January teaching at P.S. 24 in the Bronx. My interest
in returning to the program was to further my teaching experience
and continue to study the politics, policy and educational
reform in the New York public education system.
Urban Ed Fellow Emma Kimata '14 with her New York City
alumna host Ruth Turner '46.
Kimata's class at Shuang Wen P.S. 184m.
I was generously
welcomed into the home of Ruth Turner ’46, who allowed me to live with her during the program. Far more than
just having a place to stay, I was given the opportunity to form a relationship
with a truly impressive woman, who, 67 years after graduating from Smith, continues
to have a powerful connection to the college.
For this year’s Urban Ed fellowship,
I taught at Shuang Wen P.S. 184m, a dual language school on the Lower East Side,
Manhattan. The school, founded in 1998, was the first public elementary school
to offer an English and Mandarin curriculum. Part of the mission of Shuang Wen
is to contribute to nationwide efforts to educate globally conscious, culturally
diverse and multilingual citizens. I was particularly interested in working at
Shuang Wen, a top-ranking NYC public school, because it is a Title I school,
with more than 70 percent of its students living under the poverty threshold.
As a Title I public high school
graduate myself, I have personally experienced the challenges
of a school system struggling under chronic underfunding
and lack of resources. My current interest in teaching is
greatly influenced by the teachers and figures of support
that have encouraged me along my own educational trajectory.
Their dedication helped me realize the potential for all
students to overcome racial, gender and socioeconomic disadvantages
if given adequate support and encouragement.
As I shift from
the role of student to teacher, I hope to be able to kôkua—a Hawaiian word, from my upbringing, meaning “to help” or “give back.”
My official role in the P.S.
184m classroom was as a student teacher, but my responsibilities
required significant adaptability. Something that I admire
about great teachers is their capacity to perform a diversity
of tasks, including social worker, therapist, parent, mentor,
friend, role model, custodian, secretary, referee and much
One of my charismatic 8-year-old
students told me that rather than a “teacher” I should call myself a “T.O.S.H.A.C.,” his invented acronym
for Teacher-Older Sister-Helper-Artist-Comedian.
While working with the co-teachers,
Ms. Kahn and Ms. Michaels, in the third-grade ICT (integrated
co-teaching) classroom, I found that grade level to be a
year of many different types of learning. In addition to
acquiring the fundamentals of reading, writing and math,
third-grade students are developing their learner identity,
sense of responsibility and awareness of the world.
Michaels explained to me one day, “We as teachers are given
the responsibility of helping to develop a full human being in a student.”
This can be especially challenging
when the curriculum for these New York third-graders is heavily
structured according to the h igh-stakes standardized English
Language Arts and Mathematics tests. Administered every April,
some critical information that these standardized tests will
never be able to measure is student initiative, imagination,
grit, kindness, curiosity and creativity.
Smith (in 2009)
is among a handful of schools nationwide that have adopted
SAT-optional admission policies, de-emphasizing standardized
tests as a predictor of academic ability and potential, and
acknowledging the correlations between race, household income
and test performance.
The past two years of participating
in the Urban Ed Initiative and teaching in two different
third-grade public schools has taught me invaluable lessons
about urban education and my possible future as an educator.
While it may have been my third
year repeating the third grade, I hope it’s not my last.