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New York City Teaching Fellows at St. John’s Share New Approaches to Academic-Service Learning

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Combining classroom theory with real-world solutions, graduate education students in the New York City Teaching Fellows program at St. John’s University completed their thesis course last semester by presenting the results of capstone projects that used service to motivate young learners in local public schools.

Through their presentations, delivered at the University’s Manhattan campus, the graduate students conducted research they conducted as part of EDU 7585T: Assessment and Evaluation in the Teaching and Learning Process. Mary Ann Maslak, Ph.D., professor of curriculum and instruction in The School of Education at St. John’s, is the instructor.

About 300 students are pursuing their master’s degrees as New York City Teaching Fellows at St. John’s. The city funds the program through a $6 million grant that is renewed every five years. The Fellows are employed as full-time teachers at some of the most challenging local middle and high schools. At the same time, they are full-time students in The School of Education at St. John’s.

The capstone course, EDU 7585T, focuses on “action plans” the Fellows create to address the needs of their sixth–12th grade students. Connecting theory to practice, the plans draw upon the Fellows’ analyses of individual progress in their classrooms. According to Maslak, each plan forms a “suggested approach” that the Fellows use “in response to their teaching experience and their own students’ needs.” The approach is based on a “standard research method” the Fellows learn in the graduate course.

The capstone projects reflect the parameters set by the various faculty members who teach the course. Maslak, for example, had her students incorporate service-learning into their “action research.” As a result, the Fellows enriched their own students’ classroom experience by embracing St. John’s emphasis on helping others.

“Many of the professors who teach this course require the Fellows to use an ‘action research method’ for their final project,” she said. “I added an additional requirement of academic service-learning.” The approach allowed Fellows to examine and address their students’ academic and personal needs by allowing the young people to assist others.

One project, for example, focused on helping high school students to better understand the outcomes of hardships by conducting a fundraising project for the Flying Kites Orphanage in Kenya. Another sought to boost reading levels among high school students with disabilities through a collaborative partnership with a local work-experience program sponsored by the National Football League (NFL). A third effort featured a Fellow’s plan to offer yoga classes to help middle- and elementary-school students reduce stress and improve behavior.

Maslak thanked the administrators at participating public schools for supporting the Fellows’ efforts to bring positive change to their classrooms. She also expressed appreciation to Lynn Stravino, director, and Valerie Kutcher, associate director, in the Office of Academic Service-Learning at St. John’s.