By Patricia Ward
Just minutes before, Micah Roberson was inspired to write a poem, which Rosendale asked him to read to the group. Roberson spoke from the heart of love found then lost.
“Being in the class, I started to think of relationships as poetry,” he says.
That’s the sort of eureka moment language arts teachers Cheyenne Rogers ’09 and Allie Showalter ’09 were aiming for when they brought 50 of their students to the University Dec. 7.
Nina Schwartz, chair of the Department of English in Dedman College, who sat in on the lecture, sweetened the experience for Micah and the teachers: She plans to publish his poem in a future issue of erudition, the departmental newsletter.
Clearly this was no ordinary field trip; rather, the visit was designed to give the youths from Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood a true taste of life on the Hilltop. Rosendale introduced them to the nuances of poetry; in another lecture the students learned about the nation’s highest court from Joe Kobylka, associate professor of political science and a Supreme Court scholar.
The seventh-graders wrapped up the half-day trip with the definitive campus dining experience: lunch in the Umphrey Lee cafeteria.
“I think the biggest thing for the students was being able to picture themselves in college,” Rogers says. “When you’re 13, you can’t really see past January. But we were there on campus, in class with professors, asking questions, thinking and imagining – that was the most valuable part of the trip.”
“Thinking and imagining” began weeks earlier when students had to apply to participate – the teachers required their students to fill out the same application essay that SMU requires. Once accepted, the students had to attend several preparation meetings that provided background for the two lectures.
Many of the youngsters could be the first members of their families to pursue a college degree, so planting the seed of higher education now is crucial, according to Showalter.
“I will be their teacher for only one year, so my biggest focus is changing the mindset of my students by showing them what success looks like and how to obtain it,” she says.
Teach For America In Dallas
Rogers, Showalter and reading teacher Caitlin Myers ’09, who served as a chaperone, are part of the Teach for America (TFA) corps in Dallas. Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that recruits and trains outstanding college graduates to teach in low-income urban and rural public schools, with a goal of ending educational inequality.
The trio is in the first Teach for America cohort in the Dallas Independent School District. A recent DISD report deems the program a success. The report says a higher percentage of students with Teach for America teachers met TAKS standards in the critical needs areas of math and science when compared to students with other teachers in the 51 Dallas schools where TFA operates. The district wants to add 120 TFA teachers in the 2011-12 school year.
The alumni also are in the first group of 18 SMU graduating seniors to be accepted into the highly competitive program. Last spring, another 17 Mustangs were accepted by TFA from more than 46,000 applicants for 4,500 positions.
Teach for America’s ties to the University have been strengthened by a partnership with the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Education that provides graduate-level courses to the organization’s teachers in Dallas. Twenty-one corps members are enrolled in the Simmons programs.
“Sleep is scarce and patience is a hot commodity, but you keep plugging along, working hard for someone other than yourself,” she explains. “It’s a wonderful thing to put so much of yourself into such an important mission.”
To Showalter, who graduated with honors in political science and Spanish and was a John G. Tower Undergraduate Research Fellow and Joseph Godbey Scholar at SMU, “the most rewarding part of teaching is impacting students’ attitudes toward learning. Once students know learning can be fun and can change their life opportunities, anything is possible.”
Myers, who graduated with honors in journalism and served as managing editor of SMU Daily Mustang, discovered how much she had meant to her pupils when “on the last day of school last year, students left my room crying. Now they stop by my room to show me their eighth-grade report cards, invite me to their quinceañeras and ask if I’ll write them recommendations to magnet high schools.”
Another Life-Changing Decision For The Alums
This is a pivotal point in their careers. Their two-year commitment to Teach for America ends with the school year. “I feel as if I’m back in my senior year at SMU,” Myers says. “I truly do not know what I am going to do next year. I have fallen in love with teaching; however, I also have a longing to get back to one of my first passions, journalism.“It’s going to be hard to find another job that makes me feel as valued as a person as this one does,” she adds.
Likewise, Showalter is struggling with her options. “I always thought I would go to law school directly after my two years,” she says. “Now I am torn between staying in the classroom or pursuing a job that still impacts education and the achievement gap.”
Rogers, however, has decided to teach again next year. “I laugh every day. I’m up moving around, discovering, talking and writing with my kids, and we are forging on together,” she says. “I’m a little worried that it’s ruined me for any other job I may have in the future, though,” she jokes. “I just don’t think I can plunk myself behind a desk after this.”
Middle School Students Talk About Their SMU Experience
“On the SMU field trip we learned a lot about college life. After that experience, I though college might be for me, something I would enjoy. SMU is a very big place filled with learning and fun. So when I go to college, I want to attend SMU.”
– Destiny Fry
“Now even though I’m in the seventh grade, looking at the many things I saw really had an effect on what I think about going to college.”
– Joshua McComas
“I hope next time I visit the campus that I am going for orientation.”
“I felt like SMU was made for me. SMU made me feel more confident about going to college.”
– Saphire Cervantes
“I thought this was going to be a regular field trip, yet it was an exciting and inspiring experience to see and realize how great college life is.”
– Elia Perez
“Professor Kobylka was my favorite because he made the Supreme Court more important to me and he made it more interesting. To me, I think he should teach at Greiner as my Texas History teacher.”
– Martin Cruz
“I liked Professor Rosendale because he would never tell you you were wrong. He always explained exactly what he was doing.”
– Elena Vasquez
“I liked learning more about poetry; it has a mystery to it. I especially enjoyed the sonnet [William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18]. It’s a great poem, so important that we’re still reading it today.”
– Adrian Rangel