Partnership provides learning experience

Relationships key to partnership’s ability to succeed, administrators said.

Building deeper relationships is what educators at both Shortridge Magnet High School and Butler University’s College of Education say is the next step in their part of the partnership.

COE partners with Shortridge for professional development, provides student teachers and holds certain classes at Shortridge.

Shelly Furuness, an assistant professor of education who taught a Butler class at the school, said Shortridge is an interesting case for COE students to study, since it is still developing its magnet and uses techniques such as town hall meetings and democratic classrooms that most students only read about in education textbooks.

“Shortridge has wonderful things to offer, unique things that are not happening anywhere else,” she said. “We don’t hear about those things often enough in the face of the negative news that’s there, because it’s easier to write about.”

Some of that negative news includes the termination of Principal Brandon Cosby in November, layoff notices to both vice principals and fears that Shortridge could face state takeover if it continues  to fail to meet its test score goals. The school failed to make adequate yearly progress, as defined by the Indiana Department of Education, in 2010 and 2011.

Furuness said these concerns can frame how Butler students approach the school, and actually getting involved there helps students to confront their misconceptions.

“It helps them to see beyond the labels of urban school or failing school or troubled school,” she said. “When they talk to a student, they no longer see them as an IPS or urban kid.”

Shortridge teachers

Anne Stanich, the English as a second language teacher at Shortridge, said that the partnership has helped give the high school students role models and increased their interest in college.

She said it could grow though, if there was more involvement after school and during extracurricular activities. One such after-school session was a photography program where students  took photos and wrote around them. Stanich said this format was effective and allowed the Butler students to take on more of a mentoring role.

“After school, they’re more relaxed, it’s more fun, and we can do things that are more outside of the box,” Stanich said. “It would make that connection and bridge that gap, so they’re more willing to work on the academic portion.”

Jon Colby, the communications teacher at Shortridge, has had numerous student teachers observe in his classroom and said he is happy with the interaction he sees.

He said that while he appreciates any time Butler students come to his classroom, communication and consistency could be improved. He said sometimes requests come at the last minute.

“When we have that many people coming into our building,” he said, “it would be more advantageous to form a more consistent connection.”

Like Stanich, Colby said there are ways that Butler students could play a mentoring role, and the Shortridge students react to their teaching.

“Even if [student teachers] say the exact same thing I say, it’s good to reenforce what I say,” Colby said. “When I talk, it’s an old man talking, but when they talk, they’re a 20 year old. It’s different coming from them.”

Butler students at Shortridge

John Dimmick is a student teacher at Shortridge. He grew up in Indianapolis, where he attended a more suburban school and got a degree from Valparaiso University before coming to Butler to attain teaching certification.

While he was first introduced to Shortridge in an education class, he said being a student teacher in a school very different from his own was difficult at first.

“For the Butler students, it can be a slap in the face or a hard dash of reality,” he said. “But it’s a good taste to see what you’re going to face if you end up at an urban school.”

Dimmick said building relationships has been an important strategy for navigating the school.

“Relationships are huge, especially in a place like Shortridge,” he said. “Since they don’t have many resources, the focus isn’t just on academics, but personal and character development, and that’s all about relationships.”

Dimmick said that working at Shortridge has made him a better teacher.

“I was not convinced it was going to be the place for me, but it’s been an experience I definitely needed to have,” he said. “It gave me a good perspective on this side of education, one that is very different than what I experienced personally.”

Junior education major Shelbi Burnett said that while it can be difficult to navigate bureaucracy and implement programs at Shortridge, there is student interest. Burnett is working with other education students on an urban farming project that she hopes will contribute to the future both environmentally and educationally.

“Sustainability means both going green and that you have to create a structure and a framework for learning,” she said.

She said that while teaching in Indianapolis Public Schools can be “unpredictable,” programs and lasting involvement are the way to build the partnership.

Like Dimmick, Burnett said the experience has helped her better understand education.

“I’ve had a paradigm shift that education and learning can be a messy entity,” Burnett said. “These experiences have been invaluable to forming what I think education looks like and what it can look like.”

The Future

Katie Brooks, an assistant professor of education, is on the steering committee and has also worked with the School Change Project, which is funded by a five-year, $1.2 million federal professional development grant to work with teachers on how to reach bilingual children and better integrate them into the school.

She said she would like the partnership to become more like an exchange, where Butler professors teach at Shortridge and Shortridge faculty teach at Butler. She said this would help both sides become more comfortable.

“It takes a couple of years to build relationship and build trust,” Brooks said. “Sometimes there’s some suspicion around university people coming in, but I really think we’re starting to break down those assumptions.

While Colby said everyone he interacts with at Shortridge has the “more the merrier approach” when it comes to having Butler support, Furuness agreed with Brooks, saying that there needs to be an eye toward mutual involvement and benefit as the partnership progresses.

“I never want us to be viewed as people who think they have all the answers for what to do in somebody else’s school, but we are fortunate to have access to have a lot of resources,” Furuness said. “I don’t want them to feel like the partnership is necessary for their success. It’s necessary for our mutual success.”

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