Urban Education Program Expands

Ithaca College's Department of Education has long been committed to urban education and outreach. For years, the department has been working in Harlem -- first with the Frederick Douglass Academy, and then growing to include the Promise Academy and Jeff Canada's Harlem Children's Empowerment Zone. Now that outreach program is expanding once again, giving students on both sides of the equation another significant opportunity for learning and growth, and another opportunity to make a difference.

Under the leadership of Pat Tempesta, recently retired chair and assistant professor of education, and Maya Roth '99 (English), IC is developing a new partnership with the Uncommon Charter High School in Brooklyn, which is affiliated with the nationally acclaimed Uncommon Schools network. Roth is a founding member of the school, whose mission is to "prepare each student to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college." The idea for the partnership came about when Roth approached Tempesta about setting up a program similar to the one at FDA. Roth is quite familiar with what IC can bring to urban schools. As Tempesta recalls, "As a student [at IC], Maya was involved in our earliest outreach program. She was one of our first students down to FDA, and then she was the first to work there as a teacher. When she moved over to the Uncommon School, she encouraged us to look into building a partnership there in the same model as FDA."

With the development of this new partnership, IC students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in yet another successful model of urban education. They will observe in classrooms, interact with teachers and students, and even be given the chance to teach the students at the Uncommon Charter High School. According to Tempesta, it's an important learning experience for a number of reasons. First, there is a real need for teachers in urban areas. Second, there are many misperceptions and stereotypes about urban schools, students, and teachers, and these can contribute to a reluctance to work in this setting. Tempesta has come to clearly understand that future teachers need to see examples of urban schools that work. "You hear a lot about what is wrong, so it's important to see what's right and that there are ways to meet the needs of these students and the larger community. It gives [IC] students insight and helps them recognize that they can have expectations for all students, that they can find ways to teach and connect with all children. You need to see models of success to see that you can make a difference, that you can do this. These rich multicultural environments challenge our students to broaden and deepen their understanding."

In addition to the expansion in the New York metropolitan area, the department just took its first foray into Washington, D.C., this summer. New faculty member Peter Martin, assistant professor of education, led a weeklong course during the May summer term, in which five Ithaca College undergraduates in a variety of majors gained firsthand experience with urban education. Together, they visited charter schools, public schools, and district offices that try to implement urban reform. Martin says that the intensive course was a success; for all of the students, the visit was an eye opener. "They were inspired by the schools and what they're doing. The students expressed the desire to start their own charter school. Their response to witnessing what’s going on in the urban environment is a call to action, which is exactly what we want. We're at a time in our society when education is front and center. We're quietly and efficiently doing our part to make things better."