Eleven students from the College of Education participated in an urban teaching trip to Chicago this past semester. The Student Pennsylvania State Education Association (SPSEA) at University Park hosted the trip, which included a visit to Erie Elementary Charter School, a bilingual charter school, and volunteer work at McCormick Elementary School. The group also went to the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute to speak with researchers, and attended a teacher in-service at the Field Museum.
Mollie Safran, the 2012-13 SPSEA president and one of the 11 students, coordinated the trip. She said that this visit to Chicago was inspired by the urban seminar course that she took last year.
“As SPSEA president, I felt like the club should be helping future educators from Penn State reach their full potential as teachers,” said Safran. “As part of this I thought there should be more opportunities for students to experience and learn about urban education.”
Safran, a sophomore majoring in CEAED 4-8 Social Studies, said the trip was an eye-opening experience for many in the group, seeing the major differences between where they grew up and where they visited.
“That defines for me what we were there to experience,” said Safran, “the different cultures and circumstances that will be in our classrooms, and to prepare ourselves to make an environment welcoming for everyone.”
Kortney Sherbine, a doctoral student and a graduate assistant instructor in the College of Education, was the trip adviser. She said that she thinks that Chicago was a unique destination for this trip because Chicago has recently been part of the conversation in the ongoing discussion of American education reform.
“The SPSEA students who traveled to Chicago were able to visit a variety of learning spaces and engage in thinking about a variety of learning opportunities,” said Sherbine. “They saw first-hand the importance of teaching children, before teaching curriculum, and I believe they engaged critically with the many ways that teaching and learning might happen.”
Safran said that the trip was beneficial to students by helping them better understand what type of educators they need to be and what steps are necessary for that to be accomplished. She added that a number of the students who attended are now considering a future in urban education.
“By immersing ourselves in another city and being able to talk with the students and educators there, I feel like we could understand what it would really be like to teach in an urban school,” said Safran. “I think the experience made it clear the amazing opportunities and benefits of teaching in an urban center.”
Next year, SPSEA is planning a trip to Washington, D.C., where they plan to visit a public high school and a charter school. They also would like to take advantage of the area’s museums, and plan on meeting with a local representative to find out how teachers can engage the political system. Students in the College of Education who are interested can apply in the beginning of the fall semester.
The SPSEA is a pre-professional organization that offers future educators in Pennsylvania the opportunity to develop their leadership and professional skills through training and workshops.