During freshman orientation at Michigan State University, Allison Sherbel (Alli) had five minutes to decide her future as an elementary school teacher. Students were instructed to decide if they wanted to pursue standard coursework or prepare for teaching in a global or urban environment – Alli selected an urban education specialty and it changed her life.
For three summers, Alli has spent six weeks teaching in the classroom at Bennett Elementary School in Southwest Detroit as part of the MSU Urban Immersion Fellowship program. Each year she has been invited back to the school by the teachers and each year she enthusiastically accepts.
“When I came to Bennett, all the stereotypes I had about teaching in an urban environment vanished.” Alli said. “The kids at this school are no different than kids in West Bloomfield or other neighborhoods. Every child wants to learn – it’s in their DNA.”
Alli is spending this summer in a first grade classroom with Angela Ramirez, a veteran teacher who encourages Alli to create lesson plans and lead activities for the children – an opportunity Alli fully embraces. She recently introduced the students to adjectives and combined reading Go Away Big Green Monster with a hands-on creative art project to help them understand the concept. While reading the book Alli asked the students to identify the descriptive words. Afterwards, she pulled out art supplies and asked the kids to create their own clay monsters.
“I asked the kids to describe their monsters using adjectives we wrote on the board: wiggly, scary, goopy – great adjectives!” Alli beams. “Now every so often when we’re reading a book they’ll stop me and point out an adjective. I get really excited and make a big deal about it to encourage them to speak up and get excited about learning. Those are the moments that remind me why I want to teach.”
Bennett is one of 13 Southwest Solutions’ Community Schools locations. At each of these schools, the Community School Site Coordinator (CSSC) works with principals, teachers, and parents to identify the needs of students and connect the school and surrounding neighborhood with resources from public and private entities. The fellowship program is one example of the many partnerships to improve the experience of students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. This summer 17 MSU students are working in the classroom of seven Community Schools.
Kaity Nicastri is the CSSC at Bennett. She is a valued resource at the school and helps arrange numerous activities and initiatives to help students become more successful. Kaity got a blighted home removed from across the street of the school, organized an after-school dance class and hosts annual health and cultural fairs.
“The benefit of the MSU fellowship is that exposes future teachers to what it’s like to work in an urban environment. It’s a good opportunity for them to see that there is more to a classroom than the challenges they see on the news.” Kaity said. “This partnership also benefits the students and parents because they see new teachers coming in who are excited to be here.”
This fall, Alli will be back at a Community School as a student teacher at Bagley Elementary School in northwest Detroit. She will miss the teachers and family at Bennett, but is eager to experience a new neighborhood and student population.
“I will miss everyone at Bennett but I look forward to using the experience I’ve learned here with the students at Bagley.”