Jessica Wilson reminds her prekindergartners to share, say “thank you” and make room for one more student at the table.
Lessons in manners and social skills are mixed in with more traditional subjects in her colorful classroom at Putnam Heights Elementary School, 1601 NW 36.
“There are a lot of friends over here,” Wilson says to 10 students playing with plastic building parts on the rug. “Are there enough pieces to share?”
The first-year teacher seems at ease as she moves from one group of students to another, asking questions that challenge their thinking.
That's because the training she received through the Urban Teacher Preparation Academy gave her the experience and confidence to step into the job, she said.
“It was very specific to the challenges I would face in an urban setting,” Wilson said. “It helped me prepare for the environment I was going into.”
The training gives student teachers extra information on working with English language learners, interacting with diverse populations and teaching children living in poverty.
They spend their senior year working with a mentor teacher at an Oklahoma City Public Schools site as a paid teaching assistant.
And after they graduate from college, the new teachers meet monthly for two years with National Board Certified Teacher mentors who share their experience and advice.
“That's my favorite part,” Wilson said.
Wilson, second-grade teacher Jennifer Lopez and third-grade teacher Nikki Waller all are academy participants from the University of Central Oklahoma who did their student teaching last school year and were hired this year at Putnam Heights.
“It helped me become an overall, well-rounded teacher,” said Lopez, who once thought she wanted to be a nurse.
The full year receiving professional development and learning classroom management skills in an urban school sealed her career path.
Waller said the program mentally prepared her to understand the difficulties students deal with and granted her responsibility for those students. When she was given her own class, it felt like her second year of teaching.
“I see the one year of student teaching as my first year,” Waller said. “They are totally supporting you the first year. Then they step back and we're ready.”
The program benefits not only new teachers, but the schools that hire them, Putnam Heights Principal Susan Carlsen said.
Teachers who go through the program are more prepared to take charge of a classroom than those who have a traditional student teaching experience, Carlesen said.
“It's a win-win. They fit right in and have confidence. They're not afraid to speak up.”
The Urban Teacher Preparation Academy began in 2009 with a $400,000 grant from the Inasmuch Foundation as a partnership between UCO and the Oklahoma City Public Schools.