GCU, Alhambra benefit from growing partnership
By Cooper Nelson
GCU News Bureau
Shawn Kunz teaches math at Alhambra High School, but you’ll rarely find him at the front of the class. Instead he often sits at his desk in the back, grading homework, writing lesson plans or, most often, supervising Grand Canyon University senior Beaudy Schafman as he earns student teaching hours toward his degree.
On most days, Schafman, who stands at the front of the class, doesn’t need much guidance. He leads advanced algebra and honors pre-calculus classes like a seasoned teacher, walking students through graphing functions and solving equations on an interactive smartboard. He talks with students like a peer – which at 22 years old, he essentially is – but boasts an air of authoritative confidence.
His youth and energy fit perfectly at Alhambra, a diverse Phoenix Union high school where more than 75 different languages are spoken. Schafman will graduate in December and already is prepared to teach a class on his own.
“You learn quickly that just because you’re good at math doesn’t mean you’re good at teaching math,” said Schafman, a secondary education major with an emphasis in math. “There is knowledge that comes with teaching a class for 20 years that you just have to learn. Being here, I’m learning those things, and the students seem to relate to me.”
Schafman, one of five GCU student teachers at Alhambra, has spent the last 2½ years obtaining practicum and student teaching hours. Nearly 70 other University students are earning practicum hours at Alhambra this fall, and 90 more are expected in the spring semester. Other student teachers include Mayra Diaz and Zach Hoskins (both math) and Michael Garcia (physical education).
The program is part of a two-year-old partnership between Alhambra and GCU to inject youth at the high school teaching level and provide a convenient site for GCU College of Education students.
Claudio Coria, Alhambra’s principal, helped foster the relationship and said the two schools are the perfect fit because of their close proximity and mutual needs.
“The biggest thing has been the investment, the consistency and the generosity of GCU and its mission to benefit Alhambra and include us in its growth,” he said. “We have a great University nearby with terrific student teachers that need hours and we need teachers. It’s a win-win situation.”
Starting small but gaining momentum
GCU professor Dr. Jim Mostofo started the program to fill a need but never expected its rapid success.
Mostofo, a GCU alumnus, returned to the University in 2010 after 20 years teaching high school and at Arizona State. He noticed a lack of options for practicum hours and based his doctoral dissertation on student teaching on his then six math students. He contacted a former graduate school classmate who taught math at Tolleson High School to provide a spot for practicum hours. The program was small but successful.
In the fall of 2013, Mostofo launched the student teacher program with Alhambra assistant principal Sheri Kaplan, whom he’d met through a former student who taught there. Twelve GCU math students took part and earned 180 hours under the guidance of four Alhambra teachers. By spring 2015, more than 70 GCU students earned approximately 2,000 hours, 40 Alhambra teachers monitored the program and GCU alums Mike Scozzaro and Bonnie Cowan, who took part in the program, had been hired. Scozzaro, a former swimmer, founded Alhambra’s first swim team this fall.
“When I graduated, I didn’t do practicum and I flopped at first. I knew I needed to get students teaching hours,” Mostofo said. “Before this they weren’t ever teaching. That bothered me, so I took advantage of the fact that there’s a math teacher shortage.”
The program was so successful that Alhambra cut ties in June with Teach for America, an organization of professional teachers that formerly ran the summer school program, and asked GCU to take over. It was the most successful summer in Alhambra history. More than 900 students took classes, and the retention rate hit a record high.
Alhambra’s test scores and GPA are up since the partnership, but Mostofo said he feels as if GCU is receiving the biggest benefit.
“They keep throwing us compliments and I keep throwing them back,” he said. “I told Claudio (Coria) that we’re getting much of the benefit, but he said they’re benefiting from the youth and energy. He’s embracing it.”
Teachers still learning
Teaching at Alhambra has allowed Schafman to discover why he wants to be a teacher.
Earlier this year, he had an experience that justified his decision. He had spent weeks tutoring a troubled 21-year-old senior who had been held back multiple times and was again failing. The student came to Schafman at the end of class with a graded test, a “B” at the top – the highest grade he’d ever received – overjoyed and gracious.
The student’s test scores have improved, and he’s on his way to graduating. Schafman felt humbled to make a difference in his life.
“That’s the reason I do this,” he said. “There’s more to teaching than tests and lesson planning. I want to make better fathers and mothers and husbands and wives.”
Diaz also has found her passion for teaching at Alhambra.
The 21-year-old secondary ed. major has taught there since August and feels comfortable with the school’s diversity. She attended Fairfax High School, in the same district as Alhambra, and hopes to teach at Fairfax after graduation.
She was a teacher’s aide in high school and always has enjoyed teaching others. Seeing concepts click with students has positively affected her outlook on teaching.
“I’m not in a seat now, I’m on the other side, and it’s been great,” she said. “Every so often a student will have that ‘ah-ha’ moment when they really get something, and it makes it all worth it.”
Contact Cooper Nelson at 602.639.7511 or [email protected].