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Instilling Knowledge, Character and Trust

Master's students Luc Shephard and Christine O'Riordan help guide the work of Arbor Hill Elementary: A Community School children in the afterschool program. (Photos by Rich Gargiula)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 13, 2018) — Educators and — most importantly — students, from both the School of Education and Albany’s Arbor Hill Elementary: A Community School are delighted that the eight-year relationship between the two institutions is not only firm but growing.

That’s because a new afterschool program has been added this semester to the several opportunities that provide UAlbany’s pre-service teachers with the chance to work with students in an urban school setting.

“We have gradually increased our presence in the Arbor Hill school over time by starting with observations, then student teaching/internships, and now the after school program,” said Matthew LaFave, coordinator of Special Education Field Experience in the Division of Special Education. “It has been an incredible experience, and I am already looking forward to planning for 2019-20, when, ideally, we grow from a one-semester to a full-year program.”

Currently, 34 students in grades 1-5 are involved with the program, matched with 17 special education and literacy master’s degree candidates. The preservice teachers come to the school on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (and stay after on Thursdays for a practicum course) and apply the Flying Classroom’s STEM curriculum along with targeted lessons from the Character.org framework.

Positive Behavior Intervention

These together address STEM related issues within the students’ community while building leadership and character skills. “This framework supports the ‘Positive Behavior Intervention Supports’ techniques that already exist in the school,” said LaFave. “We focus on topic such as perseverance, character, teamwork, and socio-emotional development.”

Ulbany Master of Education student in Arbor Hill Albany

UAlbany master's student Melissa Pickering works one-on-one with a child from Arbor Hill Elementary. 

“We are excited to build this partnership between UAlbany and Arbor Hill Elementary," said Jason Lane, interim dean of the School of Education. "It advances the University’s strategic priorities around public engagement by leveraging our resources to support and strengthen our surrounding communities.”

Lynn Bancroft, special education teacher and volunteer coordinator at the elementary school, said the UAlbany students’ work “has had an amazing impact on Arbor Hill and we are extremely proud of our collaboration with Dr. LaFave and UAlbany. The interactions have been mutually beneficial. Our students look forward to the the University's students coming in, and, in turn, the UAlbany students are put to work immediately in both small group and one-on-one instruction.”

Shelby Somelofske, a first-year master’s student with a dance background, said the Arbor Hill learning experience has been “a powerful one,” working with a range of students from grades 1-5. “I see them develop team-building, social and academic skills. I have been fortunate to teach the students a small dance, and I really enjoy seeing the personalities and talent of all of them come to fruition in so many different capacities in such a short amount of time”

Fred Lesser, like Somelofske a first-year master’s student looking to teach elementary education, said, "The best part about the Arbor Hill afterschool program has been seeing the students have fun and learn together in a stress-free environment, while being their true selves. This program is something special that I hope continues to develop and expand."

A Growing Relationship

Bancroft expressed the same hope, and noted that both Albany School Superintendent Kaweeda Adams and Arbor Hill Principal Rosalind Gaines-Harrell are strong advocates for UAlbany student involvement in the school.

The cooperation extends to the UAlbany campus as well. Both Bancroft and fourth grade teacher Rich Gargiula, who co-facilitates the after-school program, teach at least one one-semester lecture course per year for the School of Education on urban education.

Arbor Hill Elementary: A Community School also currently hosts 10 undergraduate students from SOE”s Program in Human Development who, under the guidance of the program’s academic coordinator, Dayna Newton, provide approximately 105 hours of volunteer support. Plans for year two of the afterschool program include the participation of Human Development undergrads.

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