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'No child arrives at school a student,' ASU grad finds

ASU teacher graduate learns that 'no child arrives at school a student.'
December 16, 2016

Teaching residency a transformative experience for master's student

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.

Lauren Orme was raised on an Arizona cattle ranch so remote, there’s no town on the mailing address. Her mother is an alumna of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, and Orme chose education, too, leaving the ranch to become an outdoor adventure instructor. Then everything changed.

Like every teacher candidate from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Orme (pictured above with her class) is graduating with workplace experience, thanks to her student teaching placement. But Orme had brought classroom experience with her, entering the Master of Education with Arizona Certification program after having been an assistant teacher in a small private school in the Bay Area.

“I had planned lessons before, taught for days on end, developed curriculum,” she said. “I had led parent-teacher conferences. I was sure the real-life teaching experience I had, combined with the excellent curriculum in the ASU MAC program, meant student teaching would be a pleasant formality for me before graduating. I was very wrong.”

Orme was placed in a high-needs school in central Phoenix. Every student there received a free breakfast, and most were on the federal free- or reduced-lunch program. Most were bused to school, or walked. Most were English language learners. It was shockingly different from the sheltered, privileged learning environment of her experience, and Orme says she couldn’t be more grateful.

“My student-teaching placement, and specifically the 26 students in my care, have profoundly changed both my teaching and my view of the world.

“No child arrives at school a student,” Orme said. “I had to learn how to support a room of individual children so they become students. Knowing when a child desperately needs to run or laugh, or when angry outbursts are masked despair and require love instead of discipline, or when a child just needs a moment of security and peace are the greatest lessons my student teaching experience taught me.”

Orme graduated this month with a master's degree in elementary education, and answered some questions for ASU Now:

Question: What's your hometown?

Answer: No town! I grew up on my family's cattle ranch located near Cordes Lakes, Arizona. I'm proud to be the fourth generation of my family raised on our ranch, and I celebrate my deep Arizona roots. 

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: My journey to becoming a teacher has been a gradual, though natural one. I have always harbored an intrinsic love of the world and enthusiasm for learning. I worked for several years as a marine science and outdoor adventure instructor, and it was there where I learned the world through a child's unlimited imagination and hopeful perspective was where I wanted to dwell. It did not come as a surprise to me that teaching was my calling; my mother, who herself is a graduate of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, was a tremendous teacher in Arizona for many years. Her example, passion and influence inspired me then and continues to do so. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I was surprised by my passion for Title 1 schools. I was privileged to attend private schools myself, and had no experience with public school in general, let alone Title 1 schools. I did not anticipate falling in love with my students the way that I did. They came from disadvantaged backgrounds, and they changed my perspective on life, made me deeply appreciate the resilience and strength of their families, and taught me more about culture and community than I ever thought possible. I have a realized perspective on what is important and the true definition of success.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because the MAC program had exactly what I was looking for. It suited my needs as an adult who needed to work during graduate school, and the accelerated program has launched me back into the workplace quickly! 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Save your money! Those loans are so beautiful when they disburse, but try to budget the best you can. I wish I had learned this life skill much earlier! 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I love the walkway lined with orange trees along Gammage on an early summer night. The smell of those blossoms are quintessential Phoenix to me. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am temporarily relocating to Santa Cruz, California, to pursue teaching by the ocean and continue working toward my dream of being a children's book author. I'll be back, though! 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would support sustainably operated farms and ranches by providing grants for environmentally conscious agriculture. Additionally, I would increase awareness and education about supporting local farms and eating sustainable, local food. Feeding our planet, doing it responsibly, and educating the future generations on how to sustainably care for our earth is important to me. 

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ASU study finds school environment can affect student behavior

ASU study finds a way to make schools better places to learn.
December 16, 2016

Physical environment has effect on perceptions of rules and consequences, which links to bullying and misbehavior

Researchers have known for some time that certain environmental factors in a neighborhood — adequate lighting, access to green space, safe crosswalks — can affect the happiness of its residents. There’s even a tool to measure it.

In a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the William T. Grant Foundation, Arizona State University assistant professor Sarah Lindstrom Johnson and colleagues found that some of the same metrics used to determine how to make neighborhoods better places to live in can be applied to schools, to make them better places to learn.

Their findings were recently published in the paper “Assessing the Association Between Observed School Disorganization and School Violence: Implications for School Climate Interventions” in the journal Psychology of Violence.

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Sarah Lindstrom Johnson

“There’s a large body of research about how neighborhood environments influence behavior and perception,” said Lindstrom Johnson, part of the faculty in ASU’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. “Those kind of sociological theories have influenced zoning laws, police intervention and have even been written about in books like 'The Tipping Point' ... but they’ve rarely been applied to school settings.”

A former Baltimore City high school teacher, Lindstrom Johnson has a background in adolescent development and a doctorate in public health. Her goal with this project was to figure out a “sustainable intervention” for schools to improve their climate, of which one important piece is the physical climate.

“A novel aspect of this project was to understand to what extent observations of the school environment aligned with students’ and teachers’ perceptions of the school,” Lindstrom Johnson wrote in an article for Atlas of Science. To do this, they created a new tool, the School Assessment for Environmental Typology, or SAfETy.

The researchers collected data from approximately 28,500 students from 58 high schools in Maryland and measured four key metrics: school ownership (i.e., murals and positive behavior expectations); disorder (i.e., litter, graffiti and alcohol paraphernalia); surveillance (i.e., school police officers and surveillance cameras); and interactions between students and school staff.

What they found was that although a school’s physical environment had no direct effect on students’ likelihood to engage in violence, there were significant indirect effects through students’ perceptions of rules and consequences and physical disorder. For example, in schools where observers reported bad lighting and student misbehavior, students perceived the school as having lower levels of order, which was in turn associated with involvement in violence including bullying, fighting and weapon carrying.

What this shows, Lindstrom Johnson said, is that “students’ perceptions of an environment are critically important.”

Associations have also been found between negative physical environmental factors and standardized test scores, truancy and school attendance.

She added that the study’s findings provide added emphasis to an abundance of research over the past decade that adult supervision and interaction with students supports academic outcomes and reduces the likelihood of involvement in violence and drugs, and such relationships are especially important in school environments where perceptions of order and rule following are low.

A new study is under way to explore whether these same trends are observed in middle schools. A modification of SAfETy has been created to allow school administrators to measure the environment of their own schools. The hope is to coach them on how to better understand key features of the physical environment that may be influencing student and staff behaviors and perceptions.

“If you can make changes in school environments, you’re making institutional changes,” Lindstrom Johnson said. “And that can sometimes be more feasible than trying to change every individual.”

Top photo courtesy The Sanford School is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.