Preparing Leaders In Urban Education

October 12, 2012

It’s been a big year for the College of Education’s signature urban teaching program. The first graduates of the Urban Educators Cohort Program (UECP) went to work full-time in Detroit, Chicago and other cities where they can use their expertise and passion to shape the future for urban youth. And the future looks especially promising for many MSU students to follow. In 2012, the program celebrated achievements in research, teaching and external support in particularly high-profile ways.

Famous novelist James Patterson gave credit to MSU as one of the nation’s best places to prepare urban teachers when he created a new scholarship program in the College of Education specifically for new members of UECP (see right). And one UECP member from Detroit, Chris Waston (above), was named Michigan’s best student teacher of the year for his creative efforts to engage urban students in learning (see next page).

The Urban Educators Cohort Program, now entering its seventh year, is one of several initiatives in the College of Education designed to prepare students for the unique challenges of working in urban areas (see “A pipeline of programs,” page 17). Cohort members spend their first two years at MSU (before entering the formal teacher preparation program) visiting urban classrooms and taking specialized courses together.



This fall, eight MSU freshmen are starting the journey toward becoming successful urban teachers as Patterson Scholars.

They are the first recipients of a scholarship program created by the mega-selling author James Patterson, who approached the university earlier this year after searching for the nation’s best teacher preparation institutions.

His $60,000 gift to the College of Education will provide $7,500 a year for selected members of the Urban Educators Cohort Program.

“When I read about the excellent teaching programs at MSU’s College of Education and its Urban Educators cohort, I hoped there would be an opportunity for me to help,” said Patterson, the writer of detective novels such as the well-known Alex Cross series as well as several children’s books.

In a letter to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, he noted, “…my passion is to get more and more kids excited about reading, and training the next generation of great teachers is essential to that mission.”

All candidates for the scholarship must demonstrate potential to become leaders in urban education and select English or Language Arts as their teaching major or minor.

Patterson and his wife Susan have funded various scholarship programs at the institutions from which they graduated: Manhattan College, Vanderbilt University and University of Wisconsin.

The author, who is expanding his efforts to boost literacy in the U.S., has told MSU leaders he hopes to continue, and possibly expand, the program at MSU.
“We are very excited to have James Patterson supporting our aspiring teachers,” said Donald E. Heller, dean of the College of Education. “While many may know of him for his best-selling mystery novels, he has long been a supporter of literacy and education. This commitment of scholarships to the College of Education is an indication of how much he values helping to prepare the next generation of teachers.”


As soon as he set foot on campus, Christopher Waston knew he had the potential to become a role model for children. Combining his energetic personality with a fresh approach to teaching, the 2011 elementary education graduate has created a big impact for one group of students in particular: urban youth.

During his internship at Bates Academy in Detroit last year, Waston was encouraged by his mentor teacher, Robin Howard, to enter the 2012 Michigan Student Teacher/Intern of the Year competition. Although hundreds of student teachers across the state entered, Waston was the only one selected to win.

And it was the second consecutive year for a Spartan: MSU child development graduate Katie Kosko took first place in the 2011 competition, then went on to win National Student Teacher of the Year.

Waston’s winning lesson plan, focused on teaching third-graders about action verbs, incorporated a variety of different elements, including technology, local culture and even a rap that involved singing and movement. When Waston put his lesson plan into action, his class thoroughly enjoyed it — especially when it came to jumping and clapping to the song (VIDEO:

“It’s important to make teaching interactive and fun, because kids don’t want to do things that don’t interest them,” said Waston, a member of the Urban Educators Cohort Program (UECP). “They’re able to grasp a deeper understanding of the material if it’s memorable and relevant to their lives.”

Waston himself attended Detroit Public Schools. As a student at Renaissance High School, he volunteered as a math tutor for sixth- and seventh-grade students. That, coupled with teachers that had inspired him in the past, sparked his interest in teaching.

But it wasn’t until he participated in the College of Education’s Summer High School Scholars Program — a four-week retreat on MSU’s campus for urban teenagers preparing to attend college — that Waston realized his potential to become an agent of change in urban education.

“It was the first time I was able to look critically at education as a whole, or see the faults,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to attend a (high) school in which 95 percent of the students went on to college, but I was also frustrated how these experiences weren’t being translated to everyone, especially in urban areas. I knew I needed to do something.”

Waston decided to apply to MSU and focus on becoming an urban teacher through UECP.

As a freshman, he co-founded the Black Males in Education Network (BMEN), an organization of students who conduct research, create outreach programs and serve as mentors for young black males in urban areas. BMEN members were driven in part by the fact that less than two percent of teachers in the U.S. are black males.

Like many MSU teacher candidates, Waston experienced teaching in Detroit through the six-week Urban Immersion Fellowship offered each summer. As a recipient of the Broad Future Teacher Award, he has committed to teaching in Detroit for at least three years after the internship year.

This fall, he is teaching fourth grade at a new charter school, Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School, in Detroit’s Northend community. He also expects to complete the MSU Master of Arts in Teaching in Curriculum (MATC) this spring.

Reflecting on his experiences at MSU, Waston said the rigorous teacher education coursework, the opportunities to teach in urban areas and encouragement from his own mentors – Professor Sonya Gunnings-Moton, College of Education doctoral graduate Curtis Lewis and field instructor Grace Vereen – contributed greatly to the shaping of his teaching practice.

Gunnings-Moton, assistant dean for student support services and recruitment, first met Waston when he was a scholar in the summer high school program. Now he serves as one of the instructors. Looking back, she says Waston is a constant reminder of why the college’s work is so critical.

“Chris is an exemplary model of what we hoped we would accomplish through our pipeline of urban education initiatives,” Gunnings-Moton said. “He’s been one of those young men whose success is not only about a pride we have within the college, but he represents a personal pride as well. With my role in the college, I’ve been fortunate to see students move through the program — but Chris is one of those students who has moved me.”
— Lauren Mehringer


LaShawn Hanes, a member of the Urban Educators Cohort Program (UECP), was part of a select group of undergraduate students across the nation to receive a research training fellowship from the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in 2012.

Free of charge, Hanes went to Vancouver to participate in the Undergraduate Student Education Research Training Workshop during the association’s Annual Meeting. Undergraduate fellows, who are interested in pursuing doctoral degrees in education, attend networking events and seminars where they learn how research is conducted and applied. They also explore graduate education and pair up with distinguished mentors.

Hanes, who is from Detroit, was nominated by Assistant Professor Rebecca Jacobsen, who helped her design a research project focusing on urban youth and their perceptions of the collegiate experience.

“That really ignited her passion for the potential to get involved in education beyond teaching,” Jacobsen said. “She still wants to teach but it’s important, especially for a first-generation college student like LaShawn, to learn about the potential she can have to really influence the field.”

Hanes was able to attend AERA presentations by some of the scholars whose work she read in her courses as a member of UECP. She graduated earlier this year and is now working on her teaching internship in Chicago.

“I have had several opportunities afforded to me throughout my matriculation that I know have prepared me for the field of education,” Hanes said. “It has given me hands-on experience and new outlooks on diversity and multiculturalism.”