Four Students Serve as Urban Education Initiative Fellows

by Camila Ryder '13

Forgoing a typical winter break of vacationing or television marathons, four students spent two weeks in January working with teachers through the Urban Education Initiative (UEI). Selected as 2013 UEI Fellows, Alis Anasal '15, Yin Guan '13, Natasha Pena '15, and Kathy Sun '16 worked as interns in New York City and Boston schools, assisting teachers and tutoring students one-on-one.

According to Professor of Educational Studies Lisa Smulyan '76, UEI aims to immerse students in the educational experience at urban elementary, middle and high schools in the New York City and Boston area. The program is sponsored, in part, by the Consortium for Excellence in Teacher Education (CETE), a group of private liberal arts colleges and universities that formed to support the efforts of teacher educators and students in member institutions as well local school personnel with whom the faculty in the CETE institutions work.

"The goal of this program is to encourage Swarthmore students to become participants and leaders in urban education," Smulyan says, "by enhancing their understanding of the theoretical, practical, and human issues facing urban youth and city schools." 

Placed at the Boston Teacher's Union School, Sun assisted a fifth grade teacher, grading assignments and working with the students in small group and full class discussions.

"Over the course of the two weeks I came to adore the fifth graders I worked with," says Sun. "Despite everything that was working against them, they all really wanted to learn and succeed."

Sun, who hails from Newton, Mass., valued the mentorship and community that the program provided, particularly in the discussion sessions UEI hosted over the two weeks. "Sharing and comparing experiences with other interns was both informative and entertaining," she says.

Guan, who was also placed at a Boston public school, found her experience working with a high school biology teacher rewarding. "As a biology major and aspiring educator," she says, "the experience was invaluable for me in grounding my thoughts on education in the lived experiences of my mentor teacher and her students."

Spending her two weeks as a teaching assistant in ninth grade and AP biology, Guan, a native of Cheshire, Conn., worked one-on-one with the students, "giving individualized attention to guide students' understanding, and develop scientific reasoning abilities." Guan credits her time as a UEI fellow as affirming her interests in teaching biology and also allowing her to reflect upon science education and "inquiry-based biology curriculum." 

Aiming to inspire future teachers, UEI also hopes to provide undergraduate students with "an opportunity to see excellent urban teaching" in action, according to Smulyan. Both Sun and Guan agree that it was a "wonderful experience."

"I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in any aspect of education," Sun says, "not just teaching."