ATLANTIC CITY — Teaching in an urban school requires more than just knowledge of reading, writing, math or science. It takes an understanding of the challenges students also face outside the classroom.
Six area high school students considering a career in teaching spent two weeks learning about the city and its schools at the first Urban Teacher Academy sponsored by Stockton University.
“There are a lot of misunderstandings about what it means to teach in an urban environment,” said Meg White a professor at Stockton and director of the academy who has co-authored a book on urban education. “We wanted to show students who have expressed an interest in teaching what it really means.”
Students accepted into the program met with the mayor, police, chief and school superintendent, and on Tuesday toured three schools, where summer school programs were just getting underway. All admitted they were surprised at how nice the schools are and how enthusiastic the students and teachers are to be there.
“I think the common theme is that the kids really want to learn,” said Elizabeth Glass, 16, of Galloway Township, who attends Cedar Creek High School. “And there is a perception that urban schools are run down. These schools have better things than I do.”
Thanks to decades of casino funding, Atlantic City has been able to maintain and build new schools. Students visited the Sovereign Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and Richmond Avenue schools, where they saw students unpacking Lego kits for the first day of Project Lead the Way STEM camp.
In another classroom, students designed freestanding beanstalks out of 12 pipe cleaners.
Richmond Avenue School Principal Shelley Williams showed a display of bridges built by sixth-grade math students, the school library with its 18,000 books. Students were impressed with the Parent Resource Center, and the expansive nurses’ office, where services may include providing a clean uniform.
After the tour, students said the bright colors and warm atmosphere made the schools welcoming, places they’d want to spend their day.
“People really want to be here,” said Ashley Baker, 16, of Mays Landing, a student at Charter Tech High School in Somers Point. “Teaching here is more than a lesson plan.”
“They are challenging perceptions,” said Kira Murdock, 16, of Mays Landing, who attends Cedar Creek High School. “I like the energy.”
Williams talked about doing “Dollar Store STEM” projects with inexpensive items the school and parents can afford. She talked about educating the whole student by meeting all of their needs.
Glass said Cedar Creek has a mix of privileged and less privileged students, and sometimes teachers don’t understand the limits the less privileged students have to buy materials for projects.
James Tartaglio, 17, of Egg Harbor Township, a student at Charter Tech, said he likes the idea that teachers in urban schools are not just teaching, but helping students succeed in life.
“I see more opportunity to get involved as an urban teacher,” he said.
Claudine Smith, 14, of Egg Harbor Township, who attends Atlantic City High School as a choice student, said services such as washing a child’s uniform can also help reduce bullying since a child might be teased for wearing dirty clothes. She said she likes attending the high school because it has a good curriculum and a lot of diversity.
“People are surprised I love it there,” she said.
First offered in 2006 by the Center for Future Educators at the College of New Jersey, Urban Teacher Academies are now held in a half-dozen colleges in New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University, William Paterson University, Kean University, Rider University, Rowan University and now Stockton.
Local students also talked with area teachers and Stockton staff about effective teaching, and also met with Atlantic City officials, including Mayor Don Guardian, police Chief Henry White, Michelle Carrera, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City, and Natalie Devonish, coordinator of the Youth Exposure mentoring program.