On Jan. 2, Graduate School of Education professor Kate Kinney Grossman’s class resumed, as did all of the classes in Philadelphia's public schools. This was not a coincidence: The Graduate School of Education creates their calendar not to correspond with Penn’s, but to correspond with the local schools.
GSE students spend a great deal of time in Philadelphia's schools, far more than their counterparts at most other universities.
According to Kinney Grossman, also the Interim Director of the Teacher Education Program, GSE's 850 to 900 required hours of student teaching for its Teacher Education Program are almost double that of most similar programs.
This correlates with the GSE’s mission of “partnering” with Philadelphia schools — working with them in a give-and-take manner. GSE’s efforts are visible their website's interactive Heat Map, a project launched last year.
Kinney Grossman specifically cited the Kensington Health Sciences Academy as a major current partner of GSE. She said the school's principal had approached GSE about placing interns to expand conversations on trauma as it affects student behavior and engagement.
“It’s beyond service,” she said.
GSE student Benson Ansell, who is enrolled in the Professional Counseling program, described a similar experience from his counseling internship with the YouthBuild Charter School.
“It’s more than just an internship with the tag that ‘I’m a Penn alum,’” Ansell said. “I’ve become a part of the school and the culture."
GSE Director of School and Community Engagement Caroline Watts said that in order to uphold their end of the partnership, GSE emphasizes creating unified goals as an organization and immersing individuals in the schools to better understand the climate’s nuances.
The “boots on the ground” approach is important because Penn’s demographics are dissonant with those of the Philadelphia public schools, Kinney Grossman said. For that reason, part of the GSE’s curriculum addresses identity and race.
There are also internal challenges within the schools.
Diane Waff of the Literacy, Culture and International Education Division of the GSE added that a lack of resources is the foremost challenge. But she said this has inspired new projects for GSE, like a seminar for incorporating the arts into classroom instruction after schools lost art instructors due to funding cuts.
Another challenge, per both Watts and Kinney Grossman, is the constant teacher and leadership turnover. Not only does this make it harder for students to form relationships with their teachers, but it also creates challenges for the GSE when trying to form lasting partnerships.
"There are some people that say the district is simply too hard to work with,” Watts acknowledged, but added, “This is the public school district in one of the largest and greatest cities in the country. We are and should be a substantial resource to them and they are substantial resource to us and to the city."
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