Friday, February 16, 2007

Teach For America Setting Sights on Pre-K

It's great to see this expansion by TFA.
Teach For America Setting Sights on Pre-K
 Early-childhood pilot launched as interest in preschool rises.
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The dress-up clothes, toy kitchen, and other dramatic-play items in Jessica Haskell’s classroom are crammed under a table when they’re not being used. Some of her overhead lights don’t work, and her 4- and 5-year-old students are crowded around tables instead of moving freely throughout the room.

None of it resembles the type of early-childhood learning environment the experts might recommend, and it could be enough to frustrate any teacher—even more so a rookie right out of college whose route to the classroom was the nontraditional Teach For America training program.

But Ms. Haskell, a 2006 graduate of Boston University, has been taught to make the most of a difficult situation, and her skills are being put to the test as one of the first TFA corps members in the program’s new early-childhood initiative.

“It’s hard to come in here with all these ideas about how you want to structure things, but you have to work with it,” said Ms. Haskell, 23, who teaches a split pre-K and kindergarten class here at Scott Montgomery Elementary School, in the Northwest part of the city near the Washington Convention Center.

Founded in 1990 by then-college student Wendy Kopp, the New York City-based TFA has prepared 17,000 teachers through a program that includes an intensive summer training course and four weeks of student teaching. Teach For America occasionally has had its recruits assigned to prekindergarten in the past, but last summer was the first time the organization specifically trained recruits to work in public pre-K classrooms.

That move reflects both a growing demand for early-childhood teachers and a demand from TFA corps members themselves, according to Catherine Brown, the director of Teach For America’s early-childhood initiative. Over the years, she said, participants assigned to higher grades have often said of their students, “‘If only I could have gotten to them younger.’”

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