by Sarah Burgess - The Notebook

Leon Sullivan’s teaching internship at Parkway West’s Urban Education Academy has taught him many lessons.

Among them: “You’ve got to be patient and understanding. You can’t let what they say get to you. You’ve got to be willing to go back over some things. (And) when kids act a certain type of way, you don’t get into a confrontation, you go to the source.”

Sullivan, 18, along with 64 classmates, spends two hours, four days a week in classrooms at nearby elementary schools.

The two-year-old internship program is proving a successful way to turn students on to teaching.

Before entering the program, Sullivan wanted to be a nurse. Now, he plans to attend Community College of Philadelphia, then transfer to a local university to study education so that he can return to the District to teach English or history.

In 2003, Philadelphia Academies, Inc. rolled out Academies of Urban Education at Parkway West, Furness, and Overbrook as part of the School District of Philadelphia’s Grow Your Own Initiative. The program attracts and prepares native Philadelphians to teach in District schools.

At Furness and Overbrook, the Academy of Urban Education is one of several academy options. At Parkway West, the entire school is the academy.

Students in these academies take electives related to teaching such as public speaking, foundations of education, and psychology. In their senior year they perform an internship. Partnerships with departments of education at local colleges and universities and summer enrichment programs also contribute to students’ experience.

Parkway West math teacher Kareem Edwards graduated from the program. One of the school’s student teachers is also a recent graduate. But this year, only 10 seniors out of a class of 77 plan to go into teaching. Michael Brooks, resource manager at Philadelphia Academies, Inc., said despite the opportunities provided by the program, the academies face an uphill battle.

“The problem is there are not enough students interested in the profession,” he said, because “our schools are not set up to promote this profession.”

Many students surveyed said they ended up at Parkway West, not because they want to teach, but because it is a small, special admissions school. Others said they were following a friend or family member. Some senior girls said they didn’t even know Parkway West focused on teaching until they got there.

Parkway West principal Kathy McCladdie is working hard to generate more interest. She plans to make Parkway West’s focus on teaching more appealing and like a real-live teaching experience.

This year, the students’ uniforms display “Urban Educational Academy” in the logo. For the first time, students were interviewed as part of the application process.

While an interest in teaching is not a requirement for admission, McCladdie hopes informing prospective students about the school’s focus will discourage those who aren’t a good fit.

McCladdie also wants to infuse principles of teaching and learning throughout the school, indicating that students should learn about higher-order questioning techniques and should be assessing the use of those in all their classes.

“Our goal is that it will be like a laboratory school,” McCladdie said. “Colleges will work with our staff and our children so that they really get a feel for education.”

Bill Cohen, an English teacher and program coordinator, said the internship is crucial.

“It’s not exactly an easy sell to tell an 18-year-old to be a teacher. You have to let them go out and do it, so they can see the joys and benefits themselves,” he said.

This strategy worked with Iyeshia Fields. When first coming to Parkway West, she said, “I wanted to major in communications, but after doing my internship, I really want to be a teacher.”

Fields will be attending Central Pennsylvania University in the fall. After graduation she hopes to teach either kindergarten or 4th grade at Comegys, her elementary alma mater.