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Elementary School U

The campus connection is making its mark on student teachers and children at the new University of Hartford Magnet School

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 8, 2002



HARTFORD, CONN.

It's not a typical choice for the average fraternity guy, but University of Hartford senior Brad Landry is sitting cross-legged on the floor in an elementary-school classroom, picture book open, reading to a gaggle of wide-eyed first-graders.

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"OK, who has read this before?" he asks the eager youngsters, who keep scooting closer, wedging in around him. Hands shoot up. But before he can begin, one little boy blurts out a question to the athletic-looking Mr. Landry: "Excuse me, are you a superstar?"

"No," Landry says, smiling, without missing a beat, "I'm a super student." He then launches into the story - but his point is well made: The children at this public K-5 school on a private university campus are coming to understand that the big guys and girls who visit their classes every day are students and learners just like themselves.

Role modeling is a key educational feature at the new University of Hartford Magnet School. In this unusual partnership between a private university and a K-5 public school, visiting university faculty and students play a significant educational role alongside the school's master teachers and principal.

There are other partnerships between public schools and universities. But some here believe this could be the first time a public grade school has been built on a private university campus.

It is a daring experiment based on the premise that a tight proximity of grade school and university can make a big difference for students in both, says Cheryl Kloczko, the magnet school's energetic principal.

"You have the frat boys offering to be reading buddies with the first-graders and the education majors becoming pen pals with our children," she says. "We have professors teaming with our teachers. It's a wonderful combination we believe will yield a better education for all students."

Everybody's in on the act

It's early yet, she admits. The school only just opened its doors in September. But so far, seven fraternities, including Sigma Epsilon Alpha, which Landry belongs to, have signed up to read aloud or donate books to the school library.

Not to be outdone, the education majors trot down the hill each day from their cluster of university buildings to help out in the K-5 school as student teachers. So do a clutch of engineering students, dancers, and aspiring actors who perform, instruct - and learn.

Music-education majors have also begun visiting daily to teach trombone, tuba, violin, and viola in the afternoon. Mornings and afternoons, professors can be seen chatting in halls and offices with the K-12 teachers.

Some university and grade-school classes are even beginning to intertwine.

Ann Courtney, an associate professor of education, teaches a theory class on writing and reading development in young children. That class of 14 university students became pen pals with Mary Ann Montano's 16 first-graders.

"My kids are just learning how to write," Ms. Montano reports. "I wouldn't normally ask them to write a letter. At first it was 'Hi, I like you.' But they've progressed to full length. And by analyzing those letters, and writing back, [Professor Courtney's] students are understanding how my kids are learning to write."

Dana Connolly, a junior majoring in education, was a pen pal to David Olechua. Sitting side by side for a quick interview, both said they liked the experience and would do it again. David got his pen pal's home address for future correspondence.

In October, Ms. Connolly says, David wrote just the first and last letters of a word, like "w" and "t" for "wait." Now he is putting vowels between those letters.

"It was great to actually see him learning to do exactly what we were learning about in class," she says.

Indeed, for Courtney, the pen-pal experiment has been the perfect marriage of theory and practice at the university level. Her final assignment was for her students to take all their pen-pal letters and analyze them for content, quantity, and quality, and place the child in a development stage.

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