NIU’s first Educate U.S. cohort going to Texas

educate us_finalEighteen juniors in Northern Illinois University’s College of Education (COE) met with representatives of Houston’s Aldine Independent School District to discuss what to expect during their week-long Educate U.S. visit in March.

Educate U.S. is a new program developed through the COE’s Partnerships office which places junior-level teacher licensure candidates in partner school districts throughout the United States for an intensive week-long classroom experience.

The 18 students, representing the departments of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE)Special and Early Education (SEED) and Literacy Education (LTCY), will travel to the Lone Star State the week of March 24-28. While there, they will stay with a host family, work side-by-side with Aldine district teachers, learn about employment opportunities and, if their busy schedule allows, see the sites in Houston, the country’s fourth largest (and rapidly growing) city.

The group is the COE’s first Educate U.S. cohort.  The college is currently researching other school districts to develop similar opportunities in a variety of locations across the country. The program is offered at no cost to participants.

Sharon Smaldino

Sharon Smaldino

According to Sharon Smaldino, director of partnerships for the COE and the LD and Ruth Morgridge Endowed Chair for Teacher Education, the Educate U.S. program was created to offer COE students new opportunities and experiences.

“We always like to work with different school districts to give our teacher candidates as many opportunities and options as possible,” she said. “We strive to provide really rich and valuable experiences as they are preparing to be young educators in the field.”

Talk about a potential partnership with the COE started about three years ago after Jeff McCanna, director of human resources at Aldine Independent School District, successfully recruited COE graduates at NIU’s educators job fair, which is held each February.

“[Those NIU teachers] do an amazing job at Aldine,” he said. “We know that the product NIU produces is great.”

McCanna hopes the weeklong classroom experience will encourage COE students to consider employment with Aldine after graduation.

“And if they don’t decide to work for us, we feel they still leave with a skill set that will allow them to go other places where there are kids like ours and be successful, help close those achievement gaps, and have limitless opportunities,” McCannon stated.

COE students can expect to work with diverse cooperating teachers because Aldine recruits the majority of their teachers from different states and countries. One way they accomplish this is through establishing partnerships like Educate U.S.

“We hire between 600 and 900 teachers a year. The vast majority of people we hire come from our student teaching initiatives and internships like Educate U.S.,” McCanna, said.

Gabriella Godinez, a junior elementary education major, looks forward to learning different teaching techniques and meeting diverse teachers in Texas.

“I am expecting to experience a whole new world compared to what I am used to in Illinois schools,” she said. “Not just in the structure and the process the school goes through, but techniques and strategies from teachers across the country.”

She believes the Educate U.S. opportunity is important as it will further her future career goals.

“I am actually really passionate about teaching overseas like in the Middle East, Africa, or Southeast Asia, so this trip will be very valuable,” Godinez said. “I am really passionate about moving outside my comfort zone.”

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