New Somerville-Tufts Collaboration Creates Innovative Bridges between Tufts and Somerville Classrooms, Creating Early Education Best Practices

Tufts student teachers to work with Somerville public school teachers in and outside the classroom to support young learners

Somerville, MA – A new district-wide
collaboration between Somerville Public Schools (SPS) and Tufts University will bring together veteran and student teachers to address classroom challenges, refine current practices and develop well-grounded best practices for teaching children preschool through second grade. While Tufts students will do full-year internships in Somerville classrooms mentored by SPS teachers, the STELLAR (Somerville + Tufts Enhancing Leadership, Literacy and Readiness) program will go beyond a basic internship model.

Instead, mentors and interns will participate together in a collaborative form of professional development, in which they will jointly develop best practices and test them in the classroom. They will explore individual SPS students’ needs and approaches to learning, and engage in case study work to diagnose and address the problems of struggling students in collaboration with Tufts faculty. Seminars will take place both at the participating school and at Tufts University, which offers resources such as the Evelyn G. Pitcher Curriculum Resource Lab and the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School.

The program is launching initially at the Arthur D. Healey School. Through the STELLAR program, student teachers enrolled in the master’s program offered at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development in Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will work as full-time interns in Healey School classrooms. Each will be directly supervised by a classroom teacher, in addition to Tufts professors and affiliated university supervisors. Each student teacher will gain valuable classroom experience in an urban school district with a diverse range of students. At the same time, the classroom teacher and, ultimately, Somerville students will benefit from a highly-skilled intern who can target the individual needs of each child.

“This collaboration goes to the core of our commitment to early literacy and kindergarten readiness. We realize the breadth and depth of the practices and programs in our community. The Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts is a national leader,” said Superintendent of Schools Tony Pierantozzi. “This partnership allows Somerville Schools to help cultivate the next generation of urban school district leaders, while our current teachers strengthen their instructional and leadership skills by developing and learning best practices in cooperation with Tufts. Ultimately, the beneficiaries will be our children, and our community.”

The STELLAR program supports the Somerville Schools’ focus on universal literacy by the third grade, and the recent universal kindergarten readiness report commissioned by the schools, City and School Committee. That report calls for coordination and collaboration among the many early education and care service providers in Somerville in support of universal kindergarten readiness ensuring that each child and family receives education and support, all with the same high standards. That report also recommended joint professional development for all service providers in the early childhood system and a more structured support system for early childhood programs across the city.

“Somerville Schools work hard to cultivate and support teachers, and having high-quality professional development available to them during their first five years in the classroom can greatly enhance a new teachers’ opportunity for success as an educator in an urban environment,” said Dr. Vince McKay, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. “This collaboration offers great benefits to our teachers, providing the opportunity for professional advancement that benefits them and the Somerville students who learn from them.”

Tufts University’s teacher preparation programs focus on preparing students to work in urban communities, particularly with dual language learners, with a focus on meeting the needs of each and every learner. The new partnership with the
Somerville Public Schools system provides the student teachers the opportunity to develop the necessary skills to be effective in their work with young children and their families.

“Students who come to our teacher preparation programs are explicitly committed to urban education and want to work in urban school districts. This program allows them to be able to fulfill that goal, providing formal bridges and authentic connections between the Tufts academic classroom and real world practice, and support for them in their first few years post-graduation,” said Dr. Christine McWayne, Associate Professor and Director of Early Childhood Education at the Tufts Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development.

“The national spotlight focuses squarely on improving results in urban school districts. In order to give Tufts students the tools they will need to succeed as educators in these communities, our early childhood education programs must enhance the study of equity in education and strengthen collaborations with local early childhood professionals. The STELLAR program directly addresses those goals, and I am excited about where this initial collaboration will lead,” she continued.

Long-term goals for STELLAR include enhancing pre-kindergarten classroom experiences with a broad and diverse group of students and education providers, and strengthening early education practices throughout the district. Ultimately, Somerville hopes to create teaching and learning experiences from pre-k through second grade that reflect current research and theory and have been shown to improve student learning in the classroom. The program also aims to enhance leadership development for veteran and new teachers, creating a network that supports teachers during their first five years in the classroom and grows collaborations among in-service teachers, ultimately retaining more teachers in urban education settings.

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