By Jessica Serrenti
College of Education professor Deborah Johnson teaches cultural diversity to her students through the Urban Seminar class that takes place in Philadelphia for PASSHE students.
The seminar, also called EDU 335, takes students from Pennsylvania’s state colleges to act as student teachers across 250 schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, in Philadelphia. Kutztown allows 15 students every year to take the three credit class. The seminar runs for two weeks after spring commencement, but is completed before Kutztown’s first summer session.
In order to experience the growing diversity in Philadelphia, 500 students and 30 professors from across the state are boarded in La Salle University. La Salle also provides transportation and food for all attendants, which is added into all students’ tuition. Indiana University of Pennsylvania organizes the seminar including boarding, transportation and the informational seminars students attend while taking the class.
According to Johnson, when students are not in the classrooms, they attend seminars that include panels of recently hired teachers to explain what students should expect and look forward to while there.
The program covers cultural diversity as the Latino population increases along with the African-American community that is already there. The class also works with children who have special needs.
“This program most importantly helps strip away some of the labels we think of about the city and its schools,” Johnson said.
Her main piece of advice she gives her students is to not show fear when working with the children in the schools. According to Johnson, children are hurt and turn to anger when they see someone afraid of them. The only reason students are afraid of the children is because they are unfamiliar with the area.
Chairperson of the Elementary Education department Jeanie Burnett agreed with Johnson that the labels are stripped away once inside the classroom. Having gone through the seminar herself, Johnson said that the label of children being illiterate in urban schools is not true.
“The second grade teacher I worked with had her classroom walk to the public library after the school library was damaged,” she said.
Another label Burnett was able to dispel was the difference between teachers in suburban schools versus urban schools.
“In affluent schools, teachers will bring in treats for their students. In urban schools, teachers bring in items the students need such as toilet paper,” said Burnett.
According to Burnett, the care teachers have for their students is the same no matter the location of the school.
Johnson keeps the assignments minimal for the seminar because she wants her students to focus on their experiences while in the city. Other activities include learning how to Salsa dance, going to Johnson’s church on Sunday and finding the best place for cheese steaks. Johnson drives her students around different neighborhoods of the city to show how the children they teach in urban schools live. All these activities give student teachers insight into their students’ lives outside the classroom.
Johnson has her students keep a journal throughout the two weeks along with a paper and art assignment. The art assignment, according to Johnson, allows her students to express how the seminar has changed their perspective of teaching in urban schools.