A partnership in educational excellence
Lake Shore Central School District and SUNY College at Buffalo
By JOSHUA GREGORY
Special to the OBSERVER
ANGOLA — Undergraduate teaching student Danielle Masse hovers next to a student in a classroom at A.J. Schmidt Elementary School in the Lake Shore Central School District. The pupil is hard at work on a math problem, eagerly following a process that will lead her to a complete assignment. She pauses momentarily and Masse quietly asks her a question about her method. After thinking about it, she smiles and finishes her task with the correct answer.
The scene is nothing new at A.J. Schmidt. For the last three years, prospective teachers studying at the State University of New York College at Buffalo have been engaged in classroom work through a partnership with the school. They are putting what they are learning into practice in real life settings with mentors who have been in education for years themselves.
“This experience has been incredible,” says Masse, a senior at Buffalo State who has been preparing for her future as a teacher. “The hands-on work I do with the students twice a week has been an amazing asset to my education, and having highly qualified mentor teachers to guide me along is irreplaceable.”
Masse is one of 12 students attending college classes and also spending time with students leading full class and small group lessons; her specialty is math and science. A graduate of Lake Shore, she was excited to take advantage of advancing her knowledge in the same school district she attended.
“My three years at Lake Shore helped guide me to where I wanted to go in my career,” says Masse. “I have wanted to be a teacher since I was kid, and seeing how my high school instructors interacted with my fellow students and how much they served as positive influencers really encouraged me to make this choice.”
The Demands of the Classroom
Masse has been paired with Patricia Pinto, a 26-year teaching veteran at A.J. Schmidt Elementary. Pinto is encouraged by what she sees every time she hands the reigns to her classroom to Masse and lets her learn by doing.
“This has been a rewarding experience for both of us,” said Pinto. “I enjoy sharing the successes I’ve had over my years of teaching and I like seeing new methods being put into practice, too. And the kids just love it! Once they realized Danielle wasn’t just popping into the class occasionally, they really warmed up to her and like having another person leading them.”
On any given day, Masse guides students in math exercises that stimulate them to do more than just find answers to questions. She is focused on helping them to learn about the process — how to go from start to finish and understand how vertical adding, sprints, and solving problems in sets work together in critical thinking. Masse’s use of exit tickets that students fill out when they complete a task helps them understand what they are doing and reinforces that her lessons are on point.
Masse’s full-time job as a teacher at a DoodleBugs Daycare Center in Lancaster also keeps her teaching juices flowing, and what she does there spills over into the A.J. Schmidt classroom.
“It doesn’t matter what or to whom I’m teaching,” she says. “At the daycare, we prepare students for kindergarten by introducing letters, numbers, shapes, and incorporating art as well. They love art projects and being allowed to be creative. That’s what I love about the young learners. From pre-k into elementary, they have such a passion for learning and it’s contagious!”
A Rigorous Partnership
The educational partnership between Buffalo State and A.J. Schmidt was the idea of Assistant Professor Christopher Shively, a former Lake Shore teacher himself, having taught at the same elementary school he now works with.
Outside of the core subjects he teaches at the college, he was tasked with finding a local school that would be receptive to a math and science assessment program.
Drawing from his teaching years, he contacted a former Alden Central Schools coworker, Melissa Bergler, who served as the Director of Student and Staff Learning. Bergler is currently the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction at Lake Shore.
“I knew that Melissa had a strong professional development program at Lake Shore and that she would be able to help forge strong relationships between their teachers and our students,” said Shively. “Our partnership allows future teachers to get in-class experience but what’s more, it provides them time with mentors who help guide them through both the successes and challenges of teaching.”
Shively is in constant contact with both his students and the teachers they are paired with. Part of his schedule is to be on the elementary campus and meet with both groups to make sure they are on track and getting the most out of the program. Because there are 12 students working side by side with teachers, he usually observes and follows-up with three to four students per week.
“We want to make sure that everything that is happening in the school setting is relevant to our mission of preparing students to be the best teachers of tomorrow,” said Shively. “I’m happy to say that this has never been a problem; once students get here, they don’t want to leave.”
The Demands of Life
But it’s not easy for students like Masse. The long weeks of college courses, intense teaching and learning in an elementary classroom, hours of homework all while holding down a full-time job, demands excellence in everything that they do. In fact, Masse has worked through each step of her college education as a restaurant manager and now as a teacher at the daycare center.
“It’s tough, and I have to wait for the weekends to do a lot of the relaxing things I like to do, but this is all worth it,” she said. “I want to be the best that I can be, and while every job is different, there are learning experiences everywhere.”
As the partnership continues to grow, A.J. Schmidt will be seeing new budding teachers enter its hallways and classrooms as those completing this portion of their education are ready to move on to the next phase of their career. Masse is planning on attending graduate studies at Buffalo State before making final decisions as to where she will settle with her first teaching job.
A.J. Schmidt Principal Jill Clark will be sorry to see Masse leave her students and teachers, but knows that the partnership will continue sending more dedicated students she may even hire one day.
“We are simply thrilled with our partnership with Buffalo State,” said Clark. “Being an outlet to help mold future educators is an honor and everyone here is proud to share our stories, lessons, and expertise with the best students Western New York has to offer.”