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Students take literacy message to the streets

November 03, 2008

A field experience internship program in Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership (CTEL) is giving its students exposure to the importance of literacy in a child’s early years while also providing the professional development necessary for the next generation’s teachers.

The program, like many featured in the West campus college’s curriculum, is a hands-on, real-world experience.  This one, the Early Childhood Community-Based Field Experience internship, features a unique partnership with the Burton Barr Central Library in downtown Phoenix.  One opportunity, First Five Years/Book Bridges, places first-semester junior students in the library, providing one-to-one assistance to parents, families, and center caregivers utilizing the library’s space, materials, activities, and early literacy information.  Another internship, the Book Blast program, gives the students a chance to provide literacy support for school-age children in Phoenix Afterschool Center (PAC) program sites.

Maureen Gerard, CTEL’s director of professional field experience, says the internship closely mirrors the college’s mission of meeting the needs of all children.

“Our goal is to enlarge the horizon of our students so that they recognize that the walls of a classroom are very ‘permeable,’ and that teaching and learning begin with and include the larger community,” says the second-year director.  “This internship is thoughtfully aligned with our mission, and ‘all children’ includes those who are in foster care and in high-needs districts.”

The First Five Years/Book Bridges internship features students, “early literacy coaches,” assisting library staff with developing and displaying early literature information, interactive display materials, signs, and other marketing materials.  The coaches then conduct action research projects to determine the effectiveness of marketing in the First Five Years/Book Bridges space.  The projects may also identify the strengths and weaknesses of current displays and programming targeted for families using the space.  Some coaches also assist library staff with story hours, parent workshops, trainings, story times and baby times, and other early childhood programs.

“Early literacy interns work ‘in-house’ at the library, providing support and enthusiasm during heavily attended preschool-age storytime programs,” says Erin MacFarlane, Burton Barr assistant librarian.  “They develop valuable literature-based projects focused on early literacy traits to share with young children and parents visiting the First Five Years area of the library.

“Many families make a point of visiting the library when the interns are present because they particularly enjoy the activities the interns provide.”

The interns also visit Book Bridges library outreach sites where they observe and contribute to preschool-age storytimes provided in child care settings.

Among the PAC sites receiving CTEL student support are Valley View Elementary School in the Roosevelt School District, Desert View Elementary in the Washington Elementary School District, Griffith Elementary in the Balsz Elementary School District, and Maryland Elementary in the Washington School District.  PAC is a city-funded after-school and summer recreation program that provides a variety of age-appropriate developmental activities for children at 90 school-based sites throughout Phoenix.

Book Blast interns plan and present weekly storytimes and related activities for small groups of school-age children in a recreational program setting.  The interns are supervised by a PAC librarian at Burton Barr, and the library provides books, storytime materials, and related resources for the interns.  Book Blast interns meet weekly with the PAC librarian weekly and present Book Blast programs at two sites weekly.

“The student interns are wonderful,” says Librarian I for Outreach Beth Van Kirk at Burton Barr.  “They are higher education role models for children in our after-school programs.  Many of the children the interns work with are impressed and inspired by the fact the interns are attending college, and that college students are spending quality time with them.

“ASU interns bring enthusiasm, energy and creativity to their internships.  They are motivated and excited about their contact with children and by the practical experience they gain.”

One student, senior Danielle Gonzales, has participated in the Book Blast program, worked with preschool children in another block and first-graders in another, and also tutors two young students in reading and writing.

“Book Blast gives you the tools to create a fun literary experience,” she says.  “Doing this during my first block really helped me come out of my shell.  I learned lots of great songs and books, transitional techniques, and strategies to make reading fun.”

A graduate of Tolleson Union High School in 2004, Gonzales expects to receive her B.A. in early childhood education in May next year.

“The field experience internship program this college offers is so important because not only does it prepare you for teaching, it prepares you to be a leader in the field,” says Gonzales, who at the end of her Book Blast participation was offered a permanent position with the Phoenix Afterschool Center, filling her summers with storytimes and currently running a “Step Into Reading” site featuring a unique, leveled readers series that offers books at four carefully developed skill levels.  “The program has made my passion for teaching grow even stronger.  In each internship experience, I have met someone and learned something that has really touched me.

“This has given me a foundation to work with all ages, from birth to eight years, and in diverse settings.  I feel prepared for teaching and that I will be ahead of the average first-year teacher.”

The field experience program offered by the teacher ed college leads to a student teaching experience (Block IV) in two different settings – eight weeks in a pre-kindergarten classroom, and eight weeks in a kindergarten-third grade classroom.

“These opportunities for hands-on learning and experience are exposing tomorrow’s teachers to the roots of literacy,” says Gerard, adding, “They are also contributing to professional development in the field.”

For student Gonzales, the program is her first step into a career in teaching.

“I now feel confident that with a few years teaching experience I can be a leader in my field,” she says.  “I hope to further my education, specializing in early literacy, and I hope to create a literacy program and direct its implementation in a school district.”