Emory Report
July 24, 2006
Volume 58, Number 35


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July 24 , 2006
Summer program looks like school, but it’s more

BY Elaine Justice

It’s early on a Monday morning, but 55 middle schoolers are already beginning to gather outside the Student Activity and Academic Center on Emory’s Clairmont campus. A counselor calls out a greeting; inside an enthusiastic group of teachers are meeting in a conference room, checking last-minute details before the day begins. From the outside it looks just like school, but it’s much more.

Also waiting for the day to begin are 22 Emory students enrolled in the Division of Educational Studies’ Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. They are assigned to be observers of and assistants to both teachers and students as part of an intensive graduate education course on classroom management. For them, the lessons from these days are invaluable.

“When I tell people I’m going to be a middle school teacher, they say, ‘Oh, no! Are you sure?’” said Justine Brantley, a MAT student from Gainesville, Fla. She’s referring to the widely held belief that if teenagers are challenging, preteens are impossible, especially when it comes to holding their attention in class. “But I feel pretty comfortable now,” said Brantley after two weeks of observing and assisting. “They’re just kids.”

The “just kids” are participants in the three-week Challenge & Champions program, which just wrapped its third summer at Emory.

The program is a clever combination of academic enrichment, physical education and summer fun for the rising 6th, 7th and 8th graders from public and private schools across Atlanta. C&C also serves as a theory-practice learning experience for students in Emory’s MAT program, said Karen Falkenberg, lecturer in educational studies and program director since its inception.

Not only do the Emory teachers-in-training get to observe top-notch teachers who love what they do, they also have mentoring sessions with other exemplary practicing teachers. The topics they discuss are connected to what they are learning in Falkenberg’s course; they examine the nuts and bolts of what it takes to energize a class and make the subject matter stick.

Perhaps not surprising is that half the teacher/mentors are Emory MAT alumni who have returned to share their classroom expertise—and teach middle schoolers during summer break. “It’s always good for people to stretch themselves,” said Jason Chen, a 2004 Emory MAT graduate. Chen, who usually teaches chemistry at Parkview High School in Gwinnett County, says the shift to teaching younger students “is a good challenge for me every day.”

“For me it’s like an enrichment class,” said David Lakin, one of the C&C lead teachers who has been an 8th-grade teacher at Crabapple Middle School since 2000. This fall he’ll be moving to Milton High School in Alpharetta. “I like developing my own curriculum,” he said of the Law and Social Justice course he leads. “Plus, I truly enjoy helping the MAT students.”

Former Crabapple Middle School teacher Lisa Garosi, who is now an instruction coach for Fulton County Schools, learned about C&C through colleague Lakin and decided to get involved. “I like the mix of students and backgrounds,” she said. “The collegiality of the teachers, staff and graduate students is a plus. And there’s a great mix of academics and physical education in the curriculum that’s pretty comprehensive. That’s why I like it.”

Effective teachers like David and Lisa are essential to the program’s dual purpose, inspiring both teachers-in-training and students, said Falkenberg. “Middle school is a huge change mentally, physically, emotionally for students. Some would call it a perfect storm.”

But for these middle school teachers, C&C is a great opportunity. “Most adolescents make the transition pretty well,” said Jennifer Johnson, a 2004 Emory MAT graduate who says she enjoys teaching 7th grade at Summerour Middle School in Gwinnett County. Garosi added, “We do this because we love it.”

The C&C students love it too. Instead of traditional academic courses, they select two of four electives designed to generate preteen enthusiasm: A course called “How Things Work” had students launching their own mini-rockets; others tore through reading and research assignments for a course on “Mummies Unwrapped” that included a tour of the Carlos Museum’s mummy exhibit. “The Power of the Pen”
encouraged budding authors to test their creative writing prowess. “Law and Social Justice” found the class at Emory Law School under the sound tutelage of Robin Nash, director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic.

Nash, formerly chief presiding judge of DeKalb County Juvenile Court, assigned students to the roles of judge, jury, prosecutor, defense attorney, victim and perpetrator, then had them conduct a misdemeanor shoplifting trial in the law school’s Tuttle Moot Court Room. Emory law students Ian Clarke, Tammy Wilder and Britt-Marie Cole huddled with the participants to brief them on basic trial procedures. Nash himself briefed the jury.

And the lessons he conveyed? “It’s not the prosecutor’s job to determine guilt or innocence, but to prosecute the case and let the jury decide,” Nash said. And when the young prosecutor pumped her fist at the judge’s denial of a motion to dismiss, Nash, turning to the jury, asked, “Is it proper for the prosecutor to give her client a ‘high-five’ when things go her way? Nope!” The jury was all ears, and Nash clearly enjoyed every moment.

After a morning of hands-on learning, C&C students spent their afternoons throwing javelins or doing the 100-meter dash in an Olympic sports class, testing their skills in “camp games” (a lot more challenging than they sound), learning the latest moves in step class, or playing basketball, volleyball or soccer. But the day’s high point, by all student accounts, was the free swim in Emory’s 50-meter, Olympic-sized pool. It’s a nearly perfect ending to a nearly perfect “school” day.

Interested parents can apply for C&C online beginning in January 2007. For more information and a short video visit www.des.emory.edu/C&C/.