College of Education > News and Publications > 2018: 04-06 news > Reputation of PDS program beginning to precede itself

Reputation of PDS program beginning to precede itself

The popularity of Penn State's Professional Development School has broadened throughout its 20 years to the extent that students who are interested in teaching careers have heard of the program prior to enrolling in the College of Education.

The popularity of Penn State's Professional Development School has broadened throughout its 20 years to the extent that students who are interested in teaching careers have heard of the program prior to enrolling in the College of Education. But it might be difficult to find someone who learned about the PDS earlier than Megan Robert.

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Megan Robert, a PDS intern at Gray's Woods Elementary School, has been aware of the PDS program for most of her life because her mother is a teacher at Radio Park Elementary School in State College.
For Robert, a current PDS intern at Gray's Woods Elementary School, it's sort of in her blood.

"Believe it or not, I have known about the PDS program since I was in kindergarten," Robert said. "My mom (Mary) is a second-grade teacher at Radio Park Elementary school and she has been a mentor to 17 PDS interns. Because of that, I have seen the amount of time and support she has given to each one of her interns and I knew that I wanted to have the opportunity to work with a mentor who would support me in the same way."

Robert's school year extends into June because PDS interns work the same academic-year schedule as State College teachers, but one of the program's highlights – the annual Inquiry Conference – is set for 8 a.m.-noon Saturday, April 28, at Mount Nittany Middle School. Interns present the research they've worked on throughout the year.

"I have attended several Inquiry Conferences in the past and I cannot believe that I will be presenting at this one," Robert said. "My inquiry project has definitely been a learning journey for me and I have learned that I still have a lot to learn about inquiry. It's a chance for us interns to celebrate what we have done and what we have learned about ourselves and our students. It's also a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other and get new ideas to carry with us into our future classrooms."

Because Robert grew up in the State College Area School District that collaborates with the College of Education to conduct the PDS, she had previous PDS interns in her classrooms in elementary school and high school. She's seen from all angles the impact the program can have.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work side-by-side with a veteran teacher for an entire school year and learn how to be an effective teacher," Robert said. And I knew the impact that those interns had on me as a student. I thought the PDS program would be a good fit for me because I saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow from a mentor who was committed to my growth as a teacher.

"I also saw it as an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of students in my classroom by working with them every day for an entire school year," she said.

Robert isn't the only College of Education intern who had prior knowledge of the PDS. Allyna May's older sister, Andrea, participated in the secondary English program in 2013-14, Allyna said.

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Allyna May is the second member of her family to participate in the PDS program. Her sister, Andrea, was in the secondary English program in 2013-14.
"She truly left Penn State prepared enough to succeed in her own classroom and I was able to observe this in the year to follow," May said about her sister. "As I followed my sister in similar footsteps, I knew that if I wanted to be ready to be the best teacher after my four years of a college education, I had to be a part of the PDS program."

Marissa Tavaglione has an uncle who is an elementary school principal who told her about the 10-month program. Sierra Bigler did some research as a high school sophomore and discovered Penn State as a strong school for education. And Alexandra Trivelis asked her high school superintendent to help her decide between Penn State and another school, and he told her that teachers came out of the PDS program well-prepared. "This helped lead me to my decision to attend Penn State with hopes of eventually being a part of PDS," Trivelis said.

Interns' wonderings/research can range from relationships to leadership and from student motivation to focusing on writing or mathematics.

Meghan Gallagher's wondering, for example, centers around kindness. "I am looking forward to sharing my research and findings; I really enjoyed this research," she said. "I learned so much as an educator and hope to carry my findings into my educational career.

"It is something I am really passionate about and am looking forward to sharing my findings with my colleagues and hearing their inquiries as well. My hope is that some of my ideas may help fellow educators in their classrooms, too," Gallagher said.

Tavaglione conducted research about using mindfulness in a first-grade classroom. "I observed my students, taught lessons, collected and analyzed data and reflected on my findings," she said. "Now I finally get to share what I discovered through my inquiry process."

Bigler is taking a different approach by looking at her own educational growth. "I'm really looking forward to sharing with everyone how I have grown throughout my year of student teaching," she said. "My wondering is unique in the sense that it explores something about my own learning, not my students' learning, and I believe people will be really interested to gain that different perspective.

"Sometimes it's hard to take a step back and see how we too have learned throughout the year, but I believe my inquiry does that," Bigler said.

Bigler learned from the beginning the importance of fitting in as a teacher. "I was not introduced as a student teacher but just as another teacher back in August," she said. "I was immediately recognized as part of the school community simply because I was there almost every day in the fall and then every day in the spring.

"From the very beginning I felt like this was just as much my classroom as my mentor's and that partly could be due to how welcoming she is, but it just shows how seriously everyone takes the people in our program," Bigler said.

The program can be gratifying in a variety of ways. For Robert, it's observing her students develop. "The biggest reward is watching the 24 second-graders in my classroom grow and change over the course of the school year," she said.

"It has been amazing to me to see not only their academic growth, but also to see how they have grown in other ways, such as self-confidence, social skills, growth mindset and being more independent learners."

An academic year's worth of lesson planning, conducting a classroom, interacting with students and collaborating with her mentor and PDA (Professional Development Associate) has Tavaglione ready to face her future.

"I believe that my first year of teaching will actually feel like my second year," she said. "Looking back now, I couldn't imagine doing anything other than the PDS program."

Jim Carlson (April 2018)