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GCU partners with elementary school to prepare future teachers

(GCU Photo)

PHOENIX – What better way to prepare future teachers then having them run a classroom while they are still learning?

Grand Canyon University has a unique partnership with Westwood Elementary School in west Phoenix that’s been a boon to both the teachers in training and the schoolchildren they work with.

Westwood, which is down the street from GCU on 23rd Avenue near Camelback Road, has a diverse and economically disadvantaged student population in a multicultural neighborhood.

The Title I school’s students may be overlooked by some, but not Grand Canyon University.

GCU has formed a working partnership that seems to benefit both its own students and Westwood’s as the university arms future teachers with skills they need before heading out into their own classrooms.

“It is a unique opportunity for our students to work with the neighborhood, and they get to teach real students,” assistant professor Jena Akard said.

There are roughly 40 GCU students in the program – mostly juniors and seniors – who spend several days a week in Westwood classrooms, learning, observing and teaching youth in their core studies.

“It’s called methods, where we take everything the students have learned in the last two years and apply inside the classroom right before they head out to student teach on their own,” Akard said.

The education majors start their school week inside GCU classrooms.

They learn the Westwood curriculum and prepare their own lesson plans, with guidance from their professors, then head to the elementary school to lead class for a couple of days.

By Friday, the future teachers are back in their college classroom being reviewed by their professors and hearing comments about their teaching styles and lesson plans.

Westwood principal Theresa Killingsworth strongly believes the partnership benefits her school and the education majors as well.

“It’s helping these future teachers in big ways,” she said. “When they start teaching, it’s really their second year, not their first.”

Meanwhile, Westwood students are hyperengaged and excited to see the college students on campus.

Some are beginning to show interest in attending college themselves.

Killingsworth shared a story from a morning when she was on crosswalk duty.

She was walking a young student across the street when the girl saw an older student in a GCU shirt.

The Westwood student looked at Killingworth and said, “When I grow up, I want to go to GCU.”

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