A Collaborative School/ University Partnership between the Greater Essex County District School Board and the University of Windsor Faculty of Education
Urban Education Teacher Education Program
Video of CBC Profile of the Urban Ed Partnership by Kim Kristy
It began as an interest in the kinds of schooling that takes place in an urban centre and particularly the University of Windsor and downtown Windsor communities. Drs. Allen, Cherian, Daniel & McInnes discovered as in other urban centres, the Windsor communities, contain one of the most diverse and major concentration of people in a geographic space and they have particular features that contribute to their unique issues and problems. Individuals growing up in urban centres have limited resources and lack of access to the necessary economic, educational and employment opportunities. The potential costs of not addressing these urban realities through institutional and educational change can be critical. These questions raised by The UEP lead to their most recent research project.
The Urban Education Partnership seeks to explore and develop a larger proposal to join in full partnership with the Faculty of Education and community. Findings from this study will lead to increased collaboration and cooperation in the areas of academic opportunities and achievement for students in participating schools, and teacher education and development and applied research in the Faculty of Education. As a result better serve students in these communities who come from diverse cultural, racial, economic and educational backgrounds.
Serving Our Community: The Faculty of Education’s Urban Education Partnership
Walk into a primary or secondary school classroom in an urban centre anywhere in Canada, and what do you see? A melee of children, from a variety of socio-economic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. A far cry, for many of us, from the classrooms of our Plain Jane, relatively mono-cultural youth. For a worldly optimist, it is thrilling sight, a sight that speaks of a country of opportunity, vibrancy, and a strong and varied cultural fabric. For a teacher, though, this same sight – while wonderful – usually means work. A lot of work.
Having confronted this exact issue across their research and teaching careers, three University of Windsor Faculty of Education professors have banded together to begin an exciting and important new partnership – the University’s Urban Education Partnership. When Andrew Allen, Yvette Daniel and Finney Cherian first arrived in Windsor they, like so many newcomers to the area, saw a surprising reality: that Windsor, according to Statistics Canada (2001), is Canada’s fourth most diverse city. Confronted with this – and compounded by the clear socio-economic challenges of the region – they immediately saw the opportunity for a “pilot” project to try to bridge the gap between the theoretical and the field experiences of teacher-candidates in many education programs. They approached the Dean, Pat Rogers, and a year later – September 2006 – they offered an “Urban Education Option” for the incoming BEd students. Thirty-eight Primary/Junior teacher-candidates signed up.
Drs. Allen, Daniel and Cherian all hearken, most recently, from Toronto, where they taught at York University and OISE/U of T, and were involved in urban diversity programming at their respective faculties. So they were able to run with their pilot - to create, on a shoestring, an integrated curriculum with streamlined objectives, to develop a harmonized philosophy, centering on equity, diversity and social justice, and to always, always remain open, as Dr. Cherian puts it, to “questioning practice.” With Dean Rogers’s support, Dr. Allen began forging partnerships at local schools – with principals and individual associate and mentor teachers – and with the two local boards, and “Section 11,” the Urban Education section of the 2006-2007 class, sprang into being.
This is where Dr. Allen gets excited, “Our ‘Section 11’ group was invited to volunteer to be a part of the Partnership. They self-selected. Across the board, they bring with them previous community experience and a passion and desire to make a difference. And they’re doing it.” While he cautions that the program is still in its infancy, still at the “building relationships stage,” his smile grows broader as he speaks, “so far, teacher-candidates are reporting that they are rethinking their assumptions about teaching, as well as their assumptions about working-class and poor communities. And our Associate Teachers, in the schools, are open to working collaboratively with the faculty. Associates in our local urban schools understand the challenge of working in these communities. We hope that the learning will go both ways.”
So where does the partnership go from here? Within the next five years, Dr. Allen would like to involve more schools and teacher-candidates. “And then,” he says, “With our partners fully-on board, we envision using our practicum schools as Professional Development Sites – kind of like teaching hospitals – only these sites would be teaching schools. We could then offer some of our Urban Education-specific courses on site and in collaboration with Associate teachers and other school personnel and community members.” An application for a grant to fund some much-needed community research is also in the works, as are plans to see a service-learning component folded into the curriculum. Findings from the Partnership, the hope is, will lead both to increased collaboration and cooperation in the areas of academic opportunity and achievement for students in participating schools, and teacher education and development and applied research at the Faculty of Education. A proverbial “win-win” situation.
“Ultimately,” concludes Dr. Allen, “This Urban Education Partnership should help us to better serve students in our communities who come from diverse cultural, racial, economic and educational backgrounds.” There’s a lot to do, true, but also much to gain, by all of the stakeholders involved – most of all by students in our local classrooms.
[TO COME: A quotation from the principal at Brock PS – will be folded into the article, where appropriate – should be completed by Thurs 22 March, at the latest.]
[Teaching] Enhance academic opportunities and achievement for students in participating schools;
[Teacher Education] Provide urban teacher education and teacher development, and opportunities for applied research at the Faculty of Education;
[Research and Service] Develop localized knowledge in teaching and teacher education to better serve students in our communities who come from diverse cultural, racial, economic and educational backgrounds.
Given the uniqueness of the Windsor/Essex County area (a highly diverse and small industrialized urban environment), the Urban Education Partnership will identify and share the contextual factors informing the initiation and growth of this collaborative partnership.