Robyn Beekman has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember, but never considered working in an urban district until after attending TCNJ’s Urban Teachers Academy (UTA) as a high school student. “UTA opened my eyes to how great the need is for good teachers in urban areas, and for people willing to go the extra mile for these kids,” the rising sophomore said.
Realizing she was one of those people, Beekman enrolled in TCNJ’s integrated Bachelor’s/Master of Arts in Teaching program in Urban Education. The program, which is available as a degree track in the elementary and early education department, prepares future teachers to be able to contribute to the academic achievement of students in urban schools.
“We’re working to bridge the gap, or at least stand in the gap, between all of the structural and societal inequalities between suburban and urban schools,” said Assistant Professor Tabitha Dell’Angelo, who coordinates the two-year-old urban program.
Students in TCNJ’s urban program earn a bachelor’s degree without teacher certification after four years, then continue their studies into a fifth academic year, after which they receive a master’s degree in elementary education and New Jersey certification in teaching English language learners and elementary education. The program is structured so that, right from the start, students learn the issues and sociopolitical factors that affect education in urban schools, Dell’Angelo said.
“The more students know about and understand these issues, the better equipped they’ll be to succeed as teachers in urban schools.”
The program offers a sequence of courses and in-school placements that are unique to the urban track. Perhaps the most fundamental difference between the urban and traditional elementary/early education tracks is that urban program students complete five years of study and graduate with an MAT as well as certification in teaching English as a second language (ESL). According to Dell’Angelo, New Jersey is one of the most linguistically diverse states, so having ESL certification makes urban program graduates uniquely qualified regardless of the district they eventually work in.
Students in the urban program also take two classes that their four-year counterparts do not: Introduction to Urban Education and an Inclusive Practices class. Beekman took the Intro course last spring and said it covered such topics as Abbot District funding, minority achievement gaps, and how inner-city home life can affect a student’s performance.
Urban Education students must also complete an additional in-school placement. Those placements are all in urban districts, as opposed to a mix of urban and suburban districts as is the case for students in the four-year program.
“Research has shown that to be a successful teacher in an urban school, you need to be placed in urban schools early and often, so we get the students out there starting in the freshman year,” Dell’Angelo said.
During her first year, Beekman spent one day a week in Trenton’s Hedgepath-Williams Elementary School. She said her experiences there solidified her desire to one day teach in an urban school.
“Something I’ve learned through the program so far is that children are children everywhere, and these kids in urban areas are really no different from kids in rural areas or kids in suburban areas,” Beekman said. “They’re just stuck in a bad setting, and they need love and support just as much, if not more, than other kids. And that makes me want to teach in urban areas even more.”