New partnership places student teacher in every Okolona Elementary classroom

February 26, 2020

  Students around table at Okolona Elementary School
Bellarmine junior Breya Matty, left, and second-grade teacher Katie Mullins, enjoy lunch with students Taylynn and Giovanni. 
A new partnership between the Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education and Okolona Elementary School has a Bellarmine student observing and co-teaching with every teacher in the building one day a week for the entire 2019-20 academic year.
“This is the first time we’ve had students in every classroom in one school,” said Dr. Elizabeth Dinkins, dean of the School of Education. “It’s been pretty powerful and extremely reciprocal.”
Bellarmine practicum supervisor Lynn Gottbrath and Okolona Principal Karen StearmanTeacher candidates in the School of Education do an estimated 30 hours of field work, or practicum, at various schools each semester, beginning in their first year. These junior elementary education majors are in classrooms at Okolona Elementary all day every Thursday. Remaining at the same school for an entire year lets them become more deeply involved in the school while also deepening their own experience as students. 
"This partnership is more than I expected. It has been wonderful in every aspect,” said Okolona Elementary Principal Karen Stearman. “The student teachers are part of our school community.” 
The approximately 300 pre-K through fifth-grade students at Okolona Elementary, a Jefferson County Public School in the southern part of the county, come from diverse backgrounds, with demographics indicating 60 percent identify as minorities and 85 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch. 
Susan Ellis, who teaches second grade, said that the Bellarmine students do more than bring additional resources to her classroom—they also bring their passion for education. “They give the kids an example of someone pursuing their goals and how they are going for it,” she said.
Another second-grade teacher, Katie Mullins, said that knowing she’ll have a Bellarmine student in her classroom every Thursday allows her to plan so that the additional help is beneficial to everyone. “The kids are excited” when the Bellarmine students arrive, she said. “It offers extra help, support, and lots of life and energy.”
“They help us learn,” said Taylynn, a student in Mullins’ class.  
Bellarmine junior Madison Brady spends time with one of the students in Dylan Schafer’s fourth-grade classroom who are writing a play.
Bellarmine junior Breya Matty, who is working this semester in Mullins’ classroom, said the full day in the school helps her build real relationships with her students and the faculty and staff. “I love it.” It also gives her opportunities to do things after school with the students. She’s currently helping fifth-grade teacher Marla Brown, in whose class she was placed last semester, with the academic team.  
Madison Brady, a Bellarmine student who is doing her field hours in Dylan Schafer’s fourth-grade classroom, helped a group of students write a play.
“Placing of a majority of the practicum students in one school has provided students with consistency and continuity and allows for students to always have support in the school in case they have a question, concern, exciting news, or support,” said Lynn Gottbrath, a Bellarmine supervisor who stays in regular contact with Principal Stearman.
“As a supervisor, I feel that I build closer relationships with the Bellarmine students and can help them more with observations and teaching. I see the students at many different times and see them working with kids more than a one-time observation.”
A new group of practicum students will be at Okolona Elementary next year, Dinkins said. “It’s a model that works very well for us and them.”
MIDDLE PHOTO: Bellarmine practicum supervisor Lynn Gottbrath, left, and Okolona Principal Karen Stearman. BOTTOM PHOTO: Bellarmine junior Madison Brady spends time with one of the students in Dylan Schafer’s fourth-grade classroom who are writing a play.

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