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This week, 20 rising seniors from Fels, Furness, Germantown and Overbrook high schools in Philadelphia are residents at West Chester University, where they are learning what it means to be a teacher. They are enrolled in WCU’s Jump Start program that encourages urban youth to pursue college and enter the teaching field.
"Some of these students have never been out of Philly," notes Robin Bennett, assistant director of the WCU’s Teacher Education Center and coordinator of the College of Education's Philadelphia Initiative. She is also a former teacher in the Philadelphia School District and understands the difficulties these students and their families face and the circumstances that may derail their college plans.
She has organized a full slate of educational and social experiences that keeps the kids going from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. They receive advice on how to study for and do well on the SATs; learn how to use the library for research; and talk with WCU admissions counselors. Beyond the classroom, activities are designed to foster communication and surmount boundaries. Students can relax and relate at a pizza party, a mixer, an afternoon swim session, and an open mic night.
In addition to Bennett and two staff, two WCU students are mentoring the group, escorting them back and forth between classes and activities, eating meals with them, and offering their firsthand knowledge of the campus and of college life.
The students' primary classroom experience is creating a video under the tutelage of WCU English professor Bernard Hall in which they envision a new type of school and the ideal qualities of a good teacher. Building on their own school experiences and the education philosophies they learn about in Jump Start, they will try to put into words and images the value of educators, and what life would be like without them. That scenario was addressed in an essay question they had to answer in order to be considered for this year’s Jump Start program.
"The list of reasons on why we need educators is like Pi: never-ending," wrote Christopher Gee-Allen of Fels High School. He feels Jump Start is his best opportunity "to make a serious attempt at pursuing a career teaching."