by Vicki Hildner | University Communications
In January 2014, Tina Smith became one of the first students to begin work toward a BA in Teaching, Learning and Development, the first undergraduate degree offered by the School of Education & Human Development (SEHD).
“I can’t even tell you how excited I was when I went to the preview of this program,” Smith said. “I realized this was exactly what I was looking for! To have a BA from a school like CU Denver is outstanding!”
The degree trains undergraduate students to become teachers in three areas: Early Childhood Education (birth through age 8), Elementary Education (ages 5 through 12) and Special Education (ages 5 through 21). A fourth area of specialty in Human Development and Family Relations will begin in fall of 2014. The Colorado Board of Education unanimously approved the new four-year, 126-credit-hour degree in August, calling it “extremely high-quality.” Student enrollment in the spring semester exceeded expectations, and the program expects to double projected enrollment for the fall semester.
Smith is typical of one type of student who will find this new program very appealing. Even though she had taught at a Montessori School for more than a decade, she needed a degree to maintain her status as a “lead” teacher. Smith will get a head start in the program by transferring credits earned back in what she calls her “hippie” days at CU-Boulder along with credits she has earned at the Community College of Denver.
“Finally, I am getting both the university and the degree I wanted,” she said. “CU Denver has a long history in education, and you are supported in the classroom as you learn to teach. They will do everything in their power to help you succeed, and that makes a huge difference.”
What makes this degree different?
U.S. News & World Report has ranked SEHD as one of the top education schools in the country. The undergraduate program adds dimension to an already well-regarded school.
“What’s new is that we are now able to leverage the incredible strength we have always had at the graduate level in the undergraduate experience,” said Barbara Seidl, PhD, SEHD associate dean for academic programs and undergraduate experiences.
The school’s Urban Community Teacher Education program has already established rich partnerships with local schools and teachers during the past 20 years, relationships made possible by committed educators at both the elementary school and university levels.
“Participants in this new BA will benefit from strong school and community partnerships that are unmatched in the state,” said Rebecca Kantor, SEHD dean. “Those partnerships, combined with classes taught by high-quality faculty who are well connected with schools, prepare our graduates for inclusive and culturally responsive careers. In a state and country that are becoming more and more diverse, the skills that we provide are extremely valued by employers.”
Students in the new BA program will start working with children during their first year in the program, learning by doing, supported by mentors and coaches. Unlike many traditional undergraduate teacher education programs, which consign student teaching to 12 weeks in the fourth year of preparation, the clinical education experiences in this program are threaded throughout the four years, with a total of six field experiences. Graduate students are required to have 800 clinical hours; undergraduate students will be required to have even more than 800 hours.
“This program is a fusion of theory and practice,” said Seidl. “Teacher educators who are university based and teacher educators who are field based work as partners.”
The BA in Teaching, Learning and Development program is also distinguished from other programs by its focused and consistent commitment to social justice, with an emphasis on what it means to work with children of diverse backgrounds.
“We recognize that children come from different cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and our students learn to teach in the context of diversity,” said Seidl. “We don’t just pay lip service to these differences. Our students get real-life experiences in diverse communities, and they are changed by the experience.”
What kind of students will benefit?
SEHD is recruiting students for the new program from incoming freshmen, students transferring from community colleges or four-year institutions, and individuals who are working in schools as paraprofessionals, assistant teachers or developmental intervention assistants. The program is also expected to be immediately popular with students already attending CU Denver.
Elysia Vigil, who is midway through her freshman year in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) will be one of the first current students to move into the program. Inspired to become a teacher by her aunt who was a kindergarten teacher in Denver Public Schools, Vigil could see the difference teachers make during her high school years at St. Mary’s Academy.
“Teachers have so much impact,” Vigil said. “They can make it awesome or they can make it miserable. The support I got from teachers helped me learn to stand up for myself and gave me so much confidence.”
Vigil will make a seamless transition from CLAS to SEHD to earn a BA in Teaching, Learning and Development, assisted by Academic Advisors Chris Ricciardi and Scarlett Pontón de Dutton.
“In the new program, I’m focusing mainly on how to teach, as opposed to the material itself,” Vigil said. “It doesn’t matter what you teach if you don’t learn how to get it across to students.”
The experienced SEHD faculty know what happens to ill prepared teachers who are not ready for the real demands of teaching. They quit. Their goal is to turn out first-year teachers who behave more like second- or third-year teachers.
“Students in this program will be ready for the real world as it’s developing and changing,” Seidl said. “We are committed to Colorado, committed to Denver, committed right here in downtown Denver.”
Ultimately, the new program will build its reputation through students like Vigil and Smith. Listen to them talk about their love of teaching and you have a sense of what kind of students will make this program a success.
“When I would help my aunt in the classroom, children would come and ask me questions,” said Vigil. “Their eyes would light up when they finally understood a concept. That’s so amazing to watch.”
“You get a child young and build on their enthusiasm, and you’re opening doors for them,” said Smith. “You can show them anything they want to do is possible.”