Teacher Education Honors Academy is Gold Standard

Dr. Jane Coffee (foreground) with Teacher Education Honors Academy students

The Teacher Education Honors Academy (TEHA) is one of the flagship programs at the College of Staten Island. This exceptional program is quickly becoming one of the marquee education programs in New York City.   

Labeled the “Gold Standard” by local high school principals, Dr. Jane Coffee, the Director of the TEHA, likens the program to a med school residency with the students learning both a major discipline at CSI and receiving “hands-on” classroom experience in local Staten Island middle and high schools. All of the Students accepted into the program are Math, Chemistry, Biology, or Physics majors.

The students spend the first seven semesters in the program working among six host schools until the eighth semester, when they choose one school where they will student teach. By the end of their “residency” the TEHA students are “well versed in the culture of the school,” according to Dr. Coffee. 

In order to be accepted into the program, students must be well-rounded with grades somewhere in the high 80s to low 90s as well as have high Math and Science Regent scores. Students who graduate from the TEHA do so in their major, as well as receive New York State certification. Accepted students also receive priority registration at CSI and are guaranteed to graduate in four years. “There is no waste,” Dr. Coffee said. “Students don’t take the wrong course.”

Of the 32 students currently enrolled in the program, 26 are Math majors and their desire to perfect their craft is evident during off-hours between classes when the students can be found untangling calculus problems on the TEHA’s state-of-the art Smart Board. Teachers who come out of CSI’s TEHA are well-versed in their major, are up-to-date with all of the latest equipment, and have all stood in front of a classroom before the end of their first semester–all dynamic attributes that will make them very competitive as they apply for jobs in Staten Island schools. 

TEHA’s objective is to place every one of their students in a Staten Island high school or middle school which, for the most part, means reintroducing these former Staten Island high school students back as teachers.

“My goal is to recruit excellent students and turn them into excellent teachers, so when their students then enroll in CSI, there will be less remediation,” said Dr. Coffee, who added, “Our students are learning from the best.”

Along with the five Presidential scholarships committed by CSI President Dr. Tomás D. Morales, the TEHA has also been awarded a National Science Foundation Robert Noyce grant worth over $800,000 and a grant from the Harcourt Foundation, which supports seven students for three years. The Presidential scholarships are applicable to entering students while the Noyce scholarship is awarded to juniors and seniors. 

CSI’s TEHA began as a part of CUNY-wide program entitled the Teacher Academy in 2006 when it was also offered by Brooklyn, Hunter, Queens, City, and Lehman Colleges.

Two Student Teachers Return from Galapagos

Alvin Hillary and Deja Latrese Mullings, two students enrolled in CSI’s Teacher Education Honors Academy (TEHA), spent one month this summer student teaching at La Escuela Tomas de Berlanga, a K-12 school situated in the highlands of Santa Cruz, one of the many islands that make up the Galapagos archipelago.

View the CSI Today Photo Gallery.

Alvin, a senior in the Teacher Academy, and Deja, a junior, traveled to Santa Cruz in July with Dr. Susan Sullivan, Professor of Education, to begin month-long stints as student teachers.

“CSI is the only school that offers student teaching in the Galapagos,” Dr. Sullivan commented proudly, adding that the several bilingual teachers at the school helped make for a “perfect transition.”

Alvin, who taught Biology, Chemistry, and Natural Science to the approximately 120 students, called the experience “a biologist’s dream.” Although he wasn’t fluent at the outset, Alvin taught in Spanish explaining that the terms described in the students’ texts were similar to those in English. He also said that the students were just as eager to learn English from him as they were to teach him Spanish. To the New York native, “it was odd how nice everyone was.”

Deja, who taught Math and observed Physics, spoke a little less Spanish than Alvin but was able to teach the universal formulas of the two disciplines in English, translating the texts from English to Spanish during off-hours. There was some difficulty assimilating to the living conditions in the Galapagos, due to factors like the undrinkable water. “There wasn’t even a movie theater,” Deja said.

The students were later joined by Dr. Irina Lyublinskaya, Professor of Math and Science Education, who served as a classroom observer and provided guidance to the two student teachers.

Dr. Lyublinskaya viewed the trip’s purpose as two-fold. The first priority was to take advantage of the school’s location. “The school is in a national park,” she said during an interview. She also claimed that the program was a “great experience from a scientific perspective. After all, what better place for science teachers to teach natural sciences than the Galapagos?”

Dr. Lyublinskaya’s other priority was to help La Escuela Tomas de Berlanga “take advantage of the ecological sciences of the Galapagos.” For her, the trip was all part of a bigger mission to incorporate technology into this natural science learning setting. Dr. Lyublinskaya called the program “a collaborative effort” and proposes that both sides will benefit from this collaboration.

For the CSI students, the experience was a beneficial one.

Alvin, who has completed his studies at CSI and is graduating in December, received a job offer just days after returning from the Galapagos.

Deja is using the experience to count toward her student teaching credits for the Teacher Academy and admits that “life is more stressful back home.”

Both consider the opportunity to travel to the Galapagos “an experience of a lifetime,” and they are planning to return next year when their former students, with whom they keep in touch via Facebook, graduate.

Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Lyublinskaya are hoping to receive enough funding to make the student teacher trip to the Galapagos a yearly endeavor.

The program was the brainchild of Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Lyublinskaya, collaborating professors in the Teacher Education Honors Academy at CSI. The seeds of the idea were planted several years ago, but how Alvin and Deja were able to take advantage of the opportunity is as much of a story as the trip itself.

Dr. Sullivan had plans to send students to Ecuador as long as six years ago, while helping to create the International Studies program for the then new CSI High School for International Studies. Sheila Roberts was the principal of a high school, Colegio Menor, in Quito, Ecuador with which the CSI High School was developing exchanges. When Roberts was named the newly appointed and first-ever bilingual director of La Escuela Tomas de Berlanga in the Galapagos, Dr. Sullivan realized it would be a wonderful opportunity for TEHA to collaborate with the school. The program was able to obtain funding through scholarships procured by Dr. Alfred Levine, the Acting Dean of Science and Technology, for two eager students.

The rest they say, is just part of natural evolution.

College Community Celebrates Calculus at Conference

Something amazing happened in Williamson Theatre at the College of Staten Island on May 5. An audience of students and faculty from CSI and local high schools cheered for the first derivative, L’Hopital’s rule, and critical points. These and other math topics were covered in Calculus the Musical and attendees said that they would never think of calculus the same way again.

View the CSI Today Photo Gallery.

This professional musical performed by the Know Theatre of Cincinnati was part of the Fourth Annual Teacher Education Honors Academy conference that featured presentations of lessons done by Teacher Education Honors Academy students as part of their work in host schools. The host schools included Curtis, New Dorp, Port Richmond, College of Staten Island High School for International Studies, IS 61, and IS 49.

In his welcoming remarks, President Dr. Tomás Morales emphasized the College’s commitment to this selective honors program and the important role that it plays in the College and the community of Staten Island.

Gov. Paterson Announces $839K Noyce Grant for Teacher Education

The exceptional efforts of the College of Staten Island to train tomorrow’s teachers recently received a significant boost by way of an $839K National Science Foundation (NSF) Robert Noyce grant.

The funding, announced Tuesday by New York State Governor David Paterson, builds upon the success of the College’s highly successful Teacher Academy program. Renamed the Teacher Education Honors Academy, the program maintains its mission to produce excellent teachers of math and science who will teach in high-need schools.

“The Robert Noyce grant acknowledges CSI’s history of success in producing first-quality teachers for our school system,” says Dr. Jane Coffee with CSI’s Mathematics Department. Coffee is co-author of the grant proposal with Dr. Susan Sullivan and Dr. Irina Lyublinskaya from the Education Department.

The Teacher Academy at CSI began in 2006 with support from the Petrie Foundation. The success of the program was cited by the NSF in awarding the Noyce grant. The major difference between the two programs is that a student enters the Teacher Education Honors Academy as a freshman or sophomore, and transitions into the Noyce program as a junior.

Coffee explains that Noyce funding is almost entirely for student scholarships, and that students in the program will receive $11K a year to pay for tuition, fees, work done in schools, laptop, books, and living expenses. She adds that students must also maintain a 3.0 grade point average in the program and for each year they receive support and they have to commit to teach two years in a high-need middle or high school in the United States.

Coffee also reports that the Academy is on track to double the number of majors in math and science who will graduate from CSI with initial teaching certification.

Marianne Orla, an academic adviser with the two-stage program, outlines how students progress through the Academy. “From the very first semester that they’re in the program they work one day a week in a Staten Island middle or high school. They start as observers in the classroom, but they progress through the continuum of professional development of math and science educators. Ultimately, they’re teaching lessons in the schools. That, I think, is what actually reinforces the idea that they want to be teachers. We’ve had some talks with some of the Academy students and said to them ‘are you sure that you want to be in this program?’ because they have to sign a commitment letter. What they say is ‘I really love teaching’.”

The students are certainly enthusiastic about the Academy and the unique opportunity that it gives them to teach in actual classrooms to pupils in borough high schools (at present, New Dorp, Curtis, CSI High School for International Studies, Port Richmond, William A. Morris IS 61, Dreyfus IS 49).

CSI Junior Maria Pellegrino says, “It’s amazing. When we’re in our education classes, students just sit there and observe the teachers. But, because we’re in the Academy, we can actually get up and teach, kids are asking us questions.”

Raechel Strobel, also a junior, adds, “It’s a lot of good, hands-on experience and we get a lot of feedback from the collaborating teachers.”

Finally, senior Alvin Hillary says that his students are “really excited” to see him, hoping that he’ll be teaching class when he arrives at their school.

In fact, last spring, Pellegrino, Strobel, and Hillary, as well as other students had the chance to show off their pedagogical skills at the third annual Teacher Academy Conference, where area educators and the students’ parents were treated to lessons that the students prepared and taught. According to Coffee and Orla, not only were the attendees amazed by the teaching prowess of these budding educators, they were also surprised that they skillfully employed technology, like interactive SMART boards, to teach their lessons.

The Academy is producing enthusiastic, quality teachers, who are attracting lots of attention, but Coffee notes, it also makes a significant contribution to the local community and economy. “This program is not just about undergraduate education; it’s about getting students employed in the schools.”

Whereas CSI students mostly come from Staten Island and Brooklyn, Coffee adds “they stay here because they want to be here and teach here.”

A CSI student gives a presentation at the Third Annual Teacher Academy Conference held last spring.