Team teaching comes to Park Heights school

St. Ambrose tries Harvard approach

  • Ronald Stas, who has three years' teaching experience, has been paired with a more veteran teacher. They share a classroom, students and lessons.
Ronald Stas, who has three years' teaching experience,… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
February 03, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

St. Ambrose Academy in Park Heights is trying out a new education model developed at Harvard University that has two teachers sharing a classroom, students and lessons in the Catholic elementary school's kindergarten and first-grade classes.

The teaching team can offer more individualized instruction, break off to work with groups of students with similar skill levels and provide more hands-on learning.

"Two teachers! It's a wonderful thing," said Principal Pamela Sanders. "It enables teachers to differentiate instruction and meet different instruction levels. They can plan together, cooperate and share to meet every child's needs. They also will be moving up with the children."

In kindergarten, Ronald Stas, who has three years' experience, is paired with Lucy Smith, who has been teaching for more than a decade. On Thursday, he led the six students in morning prayers, the weather report and calendar exercises, while Smith prepared the language lessons. She reviewed basic phonics and conducted word drills. He read a story that required the children to contrast and compare. As he gave instructions for the children's workbooks, she oversaw their written answers.

"I really like this," Stas said. "It's great to have a partner teacher. It is making me grow as a teacher."

The pair talk to each other throughout the lessons and include the children in the dialogue.

"Mr. Stas, do you think they are ready for workbook?" Smith asked. He and the children responded with enthusiasm.

Working in pairs is less stressful, said Smith, as she tied a little girl's oxford shoes and then straightened the collar of her uniform.

"I don't have to worry about handling all the curriculum by myself," she said. "I have a partner helping me. That also means I have more time to give students who might be struggling."

The program is one of several that grew from recommendations of a committee of local education, business and community leaders appointed by Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien. Faced with declining enrollment and rising costs, the Archdiocese of Baltimore closed 13 of its 64 schools last year. The consolidation led to innovations in several other schools, including St. Ambrose.

As the archdiocese celebrates Catholic Schools Week through Friday, many of its campuses are holding open houses that give the public a look at those innovations as well as what more the schools have to offer. Archbishop Borders School in Highlandtown began the school year with a dual-language program that offers Spanish lessons in kindergarten and first grade. St. Clement Mary Hofbauer Elementary in Rosedale is carrying on the school system's Pupils Receiving Inclusive Diversified Education program for students with learning disabilities.

St. Ambrose's Smith had a week of training with Harvard instructors last summer in New York City. She studied the university's New American Academic program, called an urban education model.

"At first I was apprehensive about the changes and team teaching, but it has turned out really good," she said. "It is amazing how well the children have progressed. The kindergarten students are reading and sounding out words."

Team-teaching requires coordinated planning, the teachers said.

"We don't have to do every little detail, but definitely the main ideas," Smith said.

At the end of each week, they meet to discuss what went well and what didn't. They decide which students are progressing and who might need more help. Both teachers look forward to following the same children through the fifth grade.

"They are already our second family," Smith said. "You get to know each one so well."

St. Ambrose is eager to show off all of its classrooms for Catholic Schools Week, but Sanders said she expects many parents to gravitate to the new team-teaching approach.

"It's a great mix that even has everybody helping each other," she said. "It's good for teachers, parents and the children."

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