It’s a good thing April Fojtik enjoys a challenge. Not only was she faced in August with the challenge of working as a full-time teacher during her student-teaching semester, but the small-town product also was asked to facilitate a new and different curriculum (Synergistic Modules) in an urban high school.
Fojtik is one of two first-year Modules facilitators in the Kansas City Missouri School District who are part of the Kansas City Residential Internship Program, which hires education majors to spend their student-teaching semester, plus another year and a half, working full-time in the district.
Program Director Deborah Gates says attracting new teachers to the urban school district hasn’t been easy, which makes the program’s five years of success that much more noteworthy.
“This is an excellent program, and I hope it will continue well into the future,” Gates said. “In my 30-plus years of being an educator, it is simply the best way for teacher induction that I have seen.”
Despite the many challenges she faced, Fojtik agrees. She facilitates a Modules lab and serves as the junior varsity girls basketball coach at Lincoln College Prep Academy. She found out about the internship program through a friend at Southeast Missouri State University.
“She explained the program and the environment, and being from small-town USA, I was thinking, ‘OK, big city and they’re having troubles getting teachers. What’s the catch with it?’” Fojtik explained. “I can say 100 percent I’ve never been in an atmosphere like this, but I love it. I love my kids.”
Ellie Donner is in her second year of the program and facilitates a Modules lab at Westport High School. She enjoys the support system for interns, which includes a mentor who visits the classroom several times each week and a housing arrangement where all interns live in the same apartment building.
“You’re around all the other people going through the same things you’re going through at the same time,” Donner said. “During my first year of teaching, there was a lot of support there. They didn’t just throw you in and say, ‘You’re done with student teaching, go.’”
KCMSD Science Coordinator David Ketchum says the internship program is particularly important in attracting math and science teachers, who are in short supply nationally.
“We have teachers that are getting good training in an urban situation and mentoring them through the first year, which is the roughest year in any teaching situation,” Ketchum said. “That allows us to have a pipeline of new, young, energetic teachers.”
Gates said the program has been effective in two particularly important ways – 99 percent of participants have remained in teaching following their first year, and 60 percent of participants have remained with the district after their two-year commitment expired.
“The interns are like seasoned teachers for the most part by their second semester,” Gates said. “Their second year they stand out as leaders in their buildings. They are cutting edge as far as knowledge, and because of their youth and vitality are more adaptable to new ideas.”
Education majors are attracted to the two-year program by a host of incentives:
• Receive up to $2,000 tuition during the student-teaching semester
• Receive half the pay (apx. $15,000) of a regular first-year teacher during the first year, and full pay during the second year
• Use of a laptop computer and printer
• Free housing accommodations
The housing arrangement of four students to an apartment required an adjustment period for Fojtik, an only child, but it also has a strong upside.
“I would have to say without a doubt it’s so beneficial to go home at night and talk with 10 other people about what you’re dealing with at your school and have other people say, ‘I’m having that same problem.’ You know it’s not just you,” Fojtik said.
Gates is pleased with the progress Donner and Fojtik have made, not only in the internship program but also as facilitators in the Modules labs. The two hope to continue teaching Modules next year, and they enjoy teaching in the inner city, even more than they originally anticipated.
“I’m showing these students there are people out there who do care. Youth all over the place, not just the big cities, probably get the feeling sometimes, ‘Fend for yourself, no one really cares,’” Fojtik said. “But it’s important for them to realize a lot of people out there care about their daily lives, their education, and where they’re going to go after that, what they’re going to become as an adult.”