When Jade Whaley meets with a small group of energetic elementary school students at St. Helena Catholic School in Minneapolis twice a week, she feels personally invested in their growth as readers.
The junior elementary education major is a Schulze Teaching Fellow tutoring the students through the Literacy Kids! program. The experience has helped Whaley develop valuable teaching skills, including identifying a pace of learning that works for each child.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that I am helping these students,” said Whaley, who is from the Chicago suburb of Lombard. “However, I’m not necessarily focusing on how great it is that I am helping these children; rather, I am paying it forward to them as others have done for me. These children deserve to be the best they can be, and I hope that I can help them become the greatest versions of themselves.”
Supporting literacy needs
The teaching fellowship program debuted last fall with funding from a Schulze Family Foundation grant. Ten junior and sophomore education majors in the School of Education were selected as fellows and were awarded $6,000 scholarships paired with paid internships tutoring in the Literacy Kids! program. The fellows work with children who need some literacy support at two Catholic elementary schools – St. Helena and St. Thomas More in St. Paul – through the free before and after-school program.
“St. Thomas More has always had an exceptionally strong literacy program that helps prepare students to be exceptional readers, writers, listeners and speakers,” Principal Patrick Lofton said. “The Schulze Teaching Fellows help provide support to our students who need some extra time and attention, so their literacy skills are sharpened.
“St. Thomas More values its ongoing relationship with the University of St. Thomas, the Schulze Teaching Fellows, and the Schulze Family Foundation because the combined strengths of these three entities ultimately help to strengthen the learning experience of our students,” Lofton continued. “The Schulze Teaching Fellows bring an enthusiasm and focus that ultimately benefit our students as not only young readers, but as young learners who will have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be successful for years to come.”
Amy Smith, associate professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education at St. Thomas, said the program enhances fellows' development as future teachers. The more time students have in the classroom working with children, the better prepared they will be when entering the profession, she said. According to Smith, what’s unique about the fellows tutoring through Literacy Kids! is they’re learning to make an assessment and creating instruction plans for children based on the data they receive through their work.
"This is data-driven instruction, which is what they're going to need to be really good, not just in their field, but also for the educational Teacher Performance Assessment – a national exam they need to pass before they can get licensed,” she said.
Developing classroom skills
The time they spend with St. Helena and St. Thomas More students strengthens the fellows' classroom skills through a myriad of ways, including the personalized instruction they prepare for each session. They work with the schools’ classroom teachers to provide literacy lessons that enhance young readers’ skills.
“This program is intended to support the incredible work of classroom teachers,” Smith said. “Literacy Kids! intends to create an extra little landing, a soft place to fall, to support and continue to boost the students’ academic achievement. The beauty of this is it benefits our students, and it makes a difference in the community.”
Junior elementary education major Annalee Kroll is another teaching fellow working with students at St. Helena on their literacy skills.
“Being a Schulze Teaching Fellow means I have a responsibility to help these students to become better readers,” said Kroll, who is from Hudson, Wisconsin. “It also means I am a role model for them.”
For sophomore Morgan Metz, an elementary education major, her work as a Schulze Teaching Fellow is setting her up for success.
“Creating daily lesson plans has been beneficial and working with eight kindergartners in their classroom has given me practice with classroom management and teaching lessons,” said the Eau Claire, Wisconsin, native, who works with students at St. Helena. “When we break into small groups, it helps me create relationships with students and learn more about them, which is important.”
Not only does she feel welcome at St. Helena, Metz enjoys getting to know each child she’s been tutoring.
“I am receiving great practice in a classroom, financial benefits to help with tuition and great mentorship from professors helping with the program and teachers within the school – all while spending my time doing something I love!” Metz said.