This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Jarline Herrera said her teachers growing up didn’t understand her. That is why she was sitting in a classroom in late July with several dozen students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.
With four of her schoolmates from Kensington Health Sciences Academy, Herrera was there to give the future teachers a dose of reality.
Herrera, a rising senior, jumped at the chance to participate in this “reverse internship,” part of Penn GSE’s Alliance for Field Practice with Kensington Health Sciences Academy. The partnership has become a crucial part of teacher training, providing a first-hand experience for graduate students who are pursuing teaching licenses and offering a unique opportunity for the high school students.
“I applied because I had terrible teachers growing up,” said Herrera. “Teachers that didn’t understand me, that didn’t understand the community.” She stressed that she was referring to teachers she had before she attended Kensington Health Sciences.
This is the first summer for the “reverse internship,” which was the brainchild of professor James “Torch” Lytle. A few of the Penn GSE students also work as counselors at KHSA as part of their training.
The University of Pennsylvania and KHSA have connections within and beyond the Alliance for Field Practice: Two GSE alumni were hired by the school as counselors. KHSA’s principal, Nimet Eren, is currently in Penn’s doctoral program.
These KHSA students’ internships are also part of the Penn Futures Project, an effort by the GSE to create an interdisciplinary partnership among three University of Pennsylvania schools: Penn Nursing, Social Policy and Practice, and GSE.
“The aim of the [Alliance] is to provide an innovative model for partnership between university and urban school district for the purpose of developing and supporting a whole-child community model of professional learning, “ said Chenelle Boatswain, the primary point of contact at Penn for the new project. “This reverse internship project came up to see how the [high] school benefits from it. It gives the student the chance to exist in different professional settings.”
The “reverse internship project” sends five KHSA student-interns to two separate graduate school classes. Two of the students, including Herrera, provide insight for graduate students pursuing a primary school level certification. Three participate in a class for those seeking to teach on the secondary level.
KHSA students cited different reasons for participation. Many expressed the desire to make a difference in the education systems.
“Here [at Penn] they are not learning how to be the best teacher or how to be the perfect teacher. They are learning how to help students in the best way,” said Savio Marku, also a rising senior at KHSA.
KHSA is also one of the District’s 12 community schools. Community schools are part of a city initiative to make schools into hubs for social services that can meet family and neighborhood needs.
Antonio Romero, KHSA’s community schools’ coordinator, explained that the “reverse internship” program’s motto, is “seek to understand before you seek to be understood.”
“Understanding” is accomplished with a dialogue between the current students at KHSA and the graduate students at Penn studying to become teachers. During the graduate-level class, teachers and professors are humanized and students at KHSA are exposed to a collegiate atmosphere.
“They learn from us and I’m also learning from them,” said Emanuel Guzman, another KHSA student, who added that, in the future, “it will be easier to make a relationship with the teachers and professors and it will be easier to communicate. It will break down more of the barriers.”
One of the graduate school instructors, A.J. Schiera, was enthusiastic about how the student-interns would benefit from his class.
“I’m hoping they also take away that sense that they have a very important set of knowledge from their experience that is important,” he said. So,”when they go back to their school and work their way through where they want to go in life, they can improve not just their lives, but the lives of others.”
For the graduate students, the program provides a first-hand introduction to the environment of schools in Philadelphia today.
“We can theorize what’s best, but hearing it from the source is a valuable experience,” said Rahel Adugna, a Penn graduate student who was among those who worked at KHSA last year. She now helps the KHSA student-interns prepare for the graduate school classes they attend.
Kate Kinney Grossman, director of the Urban Teaching Apprenticeship Program at Penn and one of the creators of the Alliance, explained that the university values “multiple forms of expertise as we develop teachers.”
The graduate students also appreciate the student-interns’ perspective.
“We’ve read and discussed really interesting and thought-provoking theories and trends,” said Alicia Ortiz said in an email. She is preparing to be a primary school teacher. “However, we haven’t quite stepped into a classroom, so sometimes it’s hard to fully imagine the outcomes. Thankfully, Jarline and Savio have been able to provide us an example of what it might be like to really be a student at a public school, specifically in Philadelphia.”
She noted that textbooks and other sources they read as part of their coursework don’t often capture real-world experiences.
KHSA student Jennafer Carrasquillo wanted to make sure that the future teachers understood the modern culture of the urban classroom and “know how the system is.”
“Behavioral-wise, everything is different,” she said. “Nowadays, if you yell at a student, where I’m from, they’re going to talk back. I’m not saying to do it not respectfully, but we have a right to speak our minds. When we watched the video in A.J.’s class, the student got in trouble because he was talking back. Situations like that then wouldn’t happen now.”
Overall, the KHSA students said they have enjoyed their experience with the program. “People are warm. They talk to you. The students will talk to you. The teachers in discussions, if you’re one-on-one talking to them, they’ll include you. It’s not like you’re on your own,” said Frances Felix.
Although the Penn Futures Project is still a pilot program, all the administrators involved expressed excitement about spreading the practice.
Said KHSA principal Eren: “This could be a great model replicated at other universities.”