Jul 1, 2014 7:39 PM by associated press
Dissecting a fetal pig. Converting a mousetrap into a car. Turning the story of Brer Rabbit into a talk show. Debating the merits of animal captivity.
Welcome to summer school at Belaire High School.
"When I was in school, we only dissected frogs," said Susan Louis, a tinge of envy in her voice.
Louis is site coordinator for the Belaire chapter of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Baton Rouge. Since 1981, the organization has held summer enrichment camps at local schools for inner city children.
In June, three of the organization's eight camps - Belaire, Greenbrier Elementary and Park Forest Middle schools - were given over for part of the day to 42 teachers-in-training. Monitored by 15 master teachers, they taught 200 children. The children apply to participate and there are no academic requirements, though applications open first to children already in Boys & Girls Club programs.
The teachers-in-training, known as practitioner teachers, are gaining certification through the alternative certification program Certification Solutions.
The master teachers also went through the program, which began training teachers in 2003.
"They have been hand-picked to serve in this role based upon their demonstrated teaching ability and their ability to coach and serve as an effective model for program participants," said Jaime Finane, director of Certification Solutions.
She said another 66 practitioner teachers are working in traditional summer schools in school districts outside of Baton Rouge.
LRCE did a small version of this program a year ago at one school, serving 100 students and training 23 new teachers
Louis said the Boys & Girls camps have long featured educational activities, but not like this.
"This kicks it up a very big notch," Louis said.
Summer is when programs like Certification Solutions - an arm of the better known Louisiana Resource Center for Educators, which loans instructional materials and offers after-hours classes to educators throughout the state - give new teachers a taste of what they are going to confront when the new school year starts in August.
"I came in cold," recalled Van Decoteau, a master teacher in social studies and one-time financial advisor whose first job was at a private school that didn't require certification.
"It would have been worth the money to go through a program like this," said Decoteau, who four years later did just that and is now teaching for the online Louisiana Connections Academy.
Will Robicheaux, a master teacher in science, said working with the Boys & Girls Club is better for prospective teachers than traditional summer schools, which typically focus on making up flunked or missed courses and prepping kids to retake standardized tests.
Robicheaux, a science teacher at Madison Preparatory Academy in Baton Rouge, said summer school teachers often rely on online instruction, leaving student teachers little to do. Classes with traditional in-person instruction are run by a wide range of teachers, some offering little support, he said.
"They have the support here they would never get elsewhere," Robicheaux said.
Jeanne Sinagra, who plans to teach biology this fall, offered another advantage: "These kids want to be here. They're not forced to be here."
Before teaching, AndrÃ©s Serna worked different fields, including years in radio. He describes himself as completely green. He's long enjoyed history, his college major. Shifting from speaking on air to speaking to a group of easily bored teenagers has been a challenge.
"You have to entertain then engage, talk at their level, not too high, not too low," he said.
The Boys & Girls Club pays its share with a $540,000 federal 21st Century grant for after-school programs. LRCE, which charges its students $4,000 tuition, covers additional costs and raised $95,000 through corporate sponsorships and grants to pay the master teachers and for two site administrators.
The classes ran Monday through Thursday during June. Three days in the classroom focused on hands-on, engaging activities. Thursdays were for field trips to the USS Kidd, the Louisiana Art & Science Museum, the State Capitol and the Baton Rouge Zoo.
Master teachers map out the plan; the teachers-in-training carry it out. Master teachers critique during the lessons and give formal debriefings at the end of each day and a full Friday of teacher training at LRCE.
Mary Allen, an LRCE adviser to practitioner teachers, on one Tuesday sat off to the side of a math class filling out a checklist. Her list draws from Compass, Louisiana's teacher evaluation system. As she watched practitioner teacher Landon Braud giving an algebra lesson Tuesday, she was looking to see how coherent he was: Did he have a good introduction to hook kids in? Did he understand what he was talking about? Did he close well?
New teachers start out tentatively - "They've never done this before" - but improve with repetition, she said.
LaMeeka Lee just a year ago started teaching English at East Feliciana High School in Jackson. She worked as a paraprofessional and a teller for Loomis, the armored car company, before trying teaching. She urged her practitioner teachers Tuesday to work with rather than fight teenage restlessness.
"They don't like to just sit and listen," she said. "They want to get up and move around."
Robicheaux said the summer classes involve near ideal conditions, different from the classes practitioner teachers will take over this fall.
"It's better than being baptized by fire," he said.
He said too often, teachers are told about successful teachers, but don't get any early success themselves.
Robicheaux also emphasized that the summer classes are good for the children taking them.
"We had a lot of kids who've come up to us and said, 'Why can't it be like this all the time?'" Robicheaux said.
Sinagra earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and studied nursing. She finally came around to teaching - "I come from a long line of educators," she said - and recognized in her short time at Belaire the truth of what her relatives are telling her.
"They told me that it's hard, it takes up a lot of your time but it's really rewarding," she said. "You can see it on their faces. The light goes on."