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A Taste of Teaching in the City: The Philadelphia Urban Seminar

Penn State College of Education preservice education students visit Philadelphia schools in May 2007.

A Taste of Teaching in the City: The Philadelphia Urban Seminar

By Dan Thompson (September 2007)

Colville_K Sheppard_cp.jpg UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – “The nervousness soon evaporated after the first day. It became comfortable and routine to walk around and check their work and help them out. After getting to know them, I transitioned from worrying about myself to worrying about them.” – Catherine Campbell, sophomore, elementary education. 

Campbell, along with eighteen other future teachers, spent two weeks observing and teaching in Philadelphia public schools last May, participating in the innovative Philadelphia Urban Seminar. Organized under the direction of Larry Vold, faculty member at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Penn State teaching candidates joined with over 300 preservice teachers across the state to get a first-hand look at urban teaching in Pennsylvania. The eighteen elementary teaching candidates—and one secondary social studies candidate—spent two weeks in urban classrooms, cleaned up a city park as part of a community service project, and participated in touring the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the National Constitution Center, and other must-see places in the city.

The students were housed in the dormitories at LaSalle University. Each morning vans from nineteen Pennsylvania campuses took future teachers into classrooms throughout Philadelphia. At the end of the school day, the students were brought to LaSalle for seminars and lectures from School District of Philadelphia teachers and officials, and guest speakers who addressed issues of classroom management in the urban classroom, how to support foster children in the classroom, and ways to make teaching in the city a gratifying career. The students also participated in seminars with their respective university supervisors as they “unpacked” each day’s events. 

Krista Coville, sophomore, elementary education, provided a telling example of the commitment displayed by Penn State students in the program. Placed at Isaac Sheppard Elementary School, she was quick to pick up on the students’ underfunded playground equipment budget. As her birthday was coming up, she asked family members for playground equipment for the school in lieu of a personal gift. The following day the van—overflowing with soccer balls and other kid-friendly outdoor equipment—pulled onto the school ground and was met with smiles and cheers by the kids.

“It was an amazingly thoughtful idea, and pulling it off while camping out at LaSalle University is very telling about the quality of students we have in our teacher education programs,” said Dan Thompson, Penn State assistant professor of social studies education. Thompson, along with graduate student Allison Kootsikas, supervised the Penn State students at the Urban Seminar.

The program opened the eyes of the Penn State participants. As Emily Coombs, sophomore, elementary education explained, “After these past two weeks, I have found that I might like to do my student teaching in Philadelphia. I really enjoyed working with these wonderful students. I would love to touch and teach children who really need me.”