GCU didn’t let pandemic stop teaching practicums
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Junior Ellie Everitt has plenty on her plate, studying for an Elementary Education degree. So worrying about landing essential practicum hours in local schools switching to online instruction was an extra burden.
“It was difficult because we didn’t know if we could get placed in schools because of COVID,” Everitt said. “Through Katy Long, it was pretty easy. I think it’s amazing what she and GCU are doing.”
Long, Assistant Professor and Elementary Education Faculty Lead in Grand Canyon University’s College of Education (COE), used her connections with four school districts to help 70 students land practicums this semester, joining several others on GCU’s traditional faculty, practicum coordinators and field experience counselors who orchestrated 513 placements in this unusual academic year.
“The relationships our faculty cultivate have been of critical importance for our students so they can continue their field preparation as future teachers in authentic, rich and meaningful ways, even during a pandemic, without impeding their progress toward graduation,” said Dr. Kimberly LaPrade, COE Dean.
Everitt got a fall practicum in the Alhambra School District, learning the ropes of teaching in a virtual setting, and this spring is working in both the Laveen and Washington school districts.
“Practicums help a lot with becoming a teacher,” Everitt said. “We get to talk to the teacher we are observing, and we get to be hands-on with the kids. It gives us experience in the classroom.”
Even if that classroom is virtual.
Long used her connections as a former teacher in the Alhambra School District and in her eight years at GCU to work on ways to continue the practicums during COVID, including with several of her former GCU students who are employed in those schools who now serve as mentor teachers on practicums. She even added a partnership with the Balsz School District in Phoenix.
“Professor Long is a natural connector and relationship builder. She’s also not afraid to take on challenges like forging new partnerships in the middle of a pandemic,” said Dr. Meredith Critchfield, COE’s traditional faculty chair.
Placing practicum students was not a priority of area schools, reeling with challenges on how to continue instruction during the pandemic. Adding mentoring duties at first seemed like an additional hurdle.
“But once students were placed and found mentor teachers, the schools found it even more beneficial,” Long said. “They could work with their students in breakouts online, and it was just another set of hands and eyes and knowledge that can help their students.”
GCU faculty had a big impact on schools throughout the Valley. Dr. Jim Mostofo secured more than 100 practicums in the fall and spring semesters, while Dr. Lisa Bernier’s ongoing relationships with Christian schools and Jena Akard’s leadership with the embedded school model at Westwood Elementary has led to dozens of other opportunities for GCU students to help area schools meet COVID challenges.
It has helped the schools in many ways.
“We have found in many instances, our students are providing some technical support and serve as resources for their mentor teachers because of their familiarity and ease with various technology tools and applications,” said Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, COE Associate Dean.
The growing Laveen School District has benefited from the partnership because it gives mentor teachers another set of eyes during virtual instruction, said Tim Thomas, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources at Laveen.
“We are able to do breakout classrooms, where teachers have utilized GCU students to work with small groups of students, monitor them or teach a lesson. So it’s really been seamless,” he said. “There isn’t a big learning curve for GCU students, who are able to navigate the technology. It doesn’t get in the way of instruction.”
Thomas was Long’s principal during her tenure in Alhambra, and the relationship continues.
“It’s not just a job but a calling in her life to improve students’ lives at the elementary level, and now how to improve teachers and preparing them coming out of GCU,” he said. “Her passion and calling for her teaching profession speak loud and clear.”
Practicums often lead to student teaching jobs at the schools and later to full-time employment. For example, through Mostofo’s partnerships, numerous former GCU students are math teachers at Alhambra and Cortez high schools.
Long credits the students, who “did an amazing with both face to face and virtual – they were teaching both. Sometimes they tell me, ‘I can tell my mentor teacher was one of your students.’”
In her classes, Long emphasizes inquiry-based instruction – instead of showing them how to do it you allow the student to explore it first and discuss.
“The power is the discussion; I tell that to them all the time,” she said.
Online instruction takes patience. They might be teaching a first grade student who needs help navigating the keyboard or introduce advanced strategies to teach older students.
“Many of them might do Instagram videos. They’ve talked on camera and are more used to it than veteran teachers,” Long said. “So they have fun ways to engage students, whether it’s through songs or gestures or different ideas. I think knowing some of those tech things helps in keeping kids engaged.”
Keeping the attention of young students on a computer was a new challenge for Everitt, but that is what the practicum is all about – learning from the classroom teachers. Everitt watched her methods of engaging them in discussion or sharing screens and incorporated them into her own teaching.
Even in the pandemic, she kept her students — and her own progress toward a degree — right on schedule.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.