College is taking 20 Towson State University juniors back to elementary school.
In the halls of Owings Mills Elementary, amid children in kindergarten through fifth grade, these young women are attending college classes and easing into the adult world of teaching.
Meanwhile, the 700 elementary youngsters are enjoying more attention and better teaching and "a new sense of pride" in themselves and their school.
These college students are the first to test a new wave of teacher training in Baltimore County that puts education majors, and their college professors, into real schools, stocked not only with real youngsters but also with dedicated teachers. The students are the first "junior interns" at Owings Mills Professional Development School, which still is Owings Mills Elementary School, but now more than that.
It also is a center for training future teachers and eventually will be the county's hub of teacher training.
"The focus is not just on the intern program; it's the continuing development of the teacher," said Teresa Field, assistant professor of elementary education at Towson State and the project's coordinator.
Owings Mills is a first such collaboration for the county and the university. The school's large enrollment, diverse student body and enthusiastic administration led to its being chosen for the pilot project, which started in September. Next year, Cromwell Valley and Hillendale -- to be renamed Halstead Academy -- elementaries in the Towson area are expected to become a pair of professional development schools, with the same group of interns working at both schools, said Dr. Field.
This approach does not replace traditional student teaching. In fact, it puts college students into a school for part of two school years
for their own instruction and offers them many opportunities to work with youngsters. They also see educational theory put into practice.
"It's a tremendous opportunity to teach teachers the way they need to learn," said Lynn Cole, assistant professor of elementary education and one of two Towson instructors at Owings Mills.
Last semester, the college students, chosen randomly, took four three-credit courses: methods of teaching reading, language arts methods, children's literature and field studies. Before the Owings Mills project, they might have been taught by three instructors on the Towson campus and then sent to different schools for the field studies.
Now, Dr. Cole and her colleague, Associate Professor Bess Altwerger, mingle the reading, language and literature courses almost into one four-hour whole. "The cage is being opened from [around] these isolated courses," Dr. Cole said.
And from "the antiquated system at the university," said Dr. Altwerger. "This is the most exciting thing I've done in a classroom in a long time."
"By the time these interns get to be student teachers, they will have known a lot of different kids," said Lisa Greenberg, a second-grade teacher at Owings Mills. "These interns have a two-year head start."
"This school bridges the gap between the college experience and the real world," said third-grade teacher Brenda Yarrison. "It's a real long-term situation."
The Towson State students aren't the only ones benefiting, school officials say.
The Owings Mills youngsters have more adults to work with because the junior interns frequently are in classrooms to observe, test theories and help students and teachers.
For example, one day recently, junior intern Melissa Bell helped a struggling youngster write a fairy tale. "It took us 20 minutes to write three sentences," she said. Faced with ever larger classes, most elementary teachers would not have time to do that.
"The adult-student ratio has been reduced at a time when that's going up [in other schools]," said Owings Mills Principal Chet Scott.
Also, the youngsters can reap the benefits of "an excellent teaching staff," many of whom are new to Owings Mills, Mr. Scott said. "I have a staff of people who were willing to come here to accept a bigger challenge."
When Owings Mills became a professional development school, the staff members had to reapply for their jobs; no one was automatically carried over from last year. That resulted in about half of the staff leaving, said Mr. Scott. A dozen teachers decided they did not want to stay, and nine others were not selected in the interview process and were reassigned.
"It was not a comfortable process, but it was a necessary thing," the principal said. "I see good teaching. I see happy students. You can feel it. I see a difference in the youngsters -- a sense of pride, higher expectations for themselves, a better understanding of who's in control. They get the message that they are very important."
Each member of the Owings Mills professional staff receives a $1,260 stipend for the additional workload. The school system, Towson State and state Department of Education contributed the stipend money.