A partnership between Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) and the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia (UVA) has welcomed a trio of new teachers to the VBCPS community. Now in its second year, the Curry Teaching Fellowship is meant to prepare and retain high quality educators by allowing potential teachers to bridge the gap between teacher preparation at the university and teacher introduction at the local school division level.
Teacher preparation has traditionally been the work of universities, while induction into the teaching profession and mentor training have been the work of the school divisions that hire the new instructors. Through the fellowship, the division is able to select teacher candidates in areas of critical need, such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and elementary education, to work in instructional support roles and as co-teachers under the guidance of mentor teachers.
For Olivia Frierson, a first-grade teacher at Christopher Farms Elementary School, the fellowship offered her the chance to be immersed into the school division, like any other employee.
“During this entire experience I never felt, or was treated, as a student-teacher,” Frierson explains. “I felt like an employee and part of the community from the very beginning. Going through student-teaching here in Virginia Beach allowed me to have knowledge of the division organization and culture before coming into this job at Christopher Farms. I already felt like I was a part of the division.”
As a graduate from Princess Anne High School, Danielle Wornom was already familiar with the division. Now a fourth-grade Spanish immersion teacher at Alanton Elementary School, she said being back as a student-teacher in VBCPS set her up for success.
“My mentor teacher Debbie Torres was phenomenal,” stated Wornom. “She let me decide what I wanted to do as a teacher and would provide me the tools to help me do it. I learned so much not only from my mentor, but from the entire school. Whether it was using the library or using technology, they helped me find the most effective way for me to teach a lesson to them.”
By having the opportunity, as a student-teacher, to find what worked best for her in the classroom, Wornom said she now has more confidence leading her own students.
“Through the fellowship program I was equipped with a number of new skills, like understanding how to reflect on my teaching practices,” said Wornom. “I know that if have a question about differentiating groups or how to combine multiple lessons, I have a number of people I can go to for help.”
Salem High School’s new math teacher, Kimberly Walden, is also thankful for the skills she acquired through the fellowship.
“My mentor really helped me learn to organize for different classes and gave me tips for keeping up with all our students’ paperwork,” said Walden. “Just having her there every day in the beginning, knowing she’s there to support me was a big help.”
Each student-teacher was provided tools and education before participating in the fellowship, but one thing they couldn’t learn in a UVA classroom were the relationships they would build in their own, said Frierson.
“The biggest learning moment for be during student-teaching was really that social-emotional piece,” Frierson remembers a moment she had with a student who had brought back a damaged library book. “He was emotional because he was worried he couldn’t pay to replace the book. By just sitting on the floor with him in the library, letting him calm down and working through the situation together created a bond between me and that student for the rest of my time student-teaching.”
Frierson added, “Having moments like that makes you remember, these emotional connections we create with your students and being that support system for them are the reason we decided to become teachers.”