We are in Detroit

October 21, 2013

Urban Immersion Fellowship transforms future teachers’ thinking about city schools

by Nicole Geary


Like many aspiring teachers at Michigan State University, Justine Albaugh grew up in suburban Metro Detroit. But home was a good 45 minutes outside the city. And she had never stepped inside a Detroit classroom.

So she applied for the Urban Immersion Fellowship.

For those seven intense summer weeks, she was in—in the community, in the classroom, in a leadership role for children who live and learn in Detroit.

And, like hundreds of MSU students who have participated in the fellowship over the last decade, Albaugh’s assumptions about urban education disappeared.

“It’s a long-term experience where you gain such a personal connection with the kids,” said Albaugh, who most recently worked with fourth-graders attending summer school at Bunche Elementary School.

“Yeah, there is a lot of poverty and there is crime coming out of these communities, but I have never seen such as nice, respectful group of students. I’ve been nothing but impressed.”

Albaugh did the fellowship twice and, hopefully, she will seriously consider working in an urban school once she becomes a certified teacher.

That’s the goal, says College of Education Assistant Dean Sonya Gunnings-Moton, who directs the program in collaboration with partners at Detroit Public Schools (DPS) and the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

More broadly, the fellowship represents an important piece of the pipeline MSU has established to prepare strong teachers truly committed to urban environments. That pipeline starts with programs for high school students and includes specialized learning opportunities up through the doctoral level.

“Our intent all along has been to provide high-quality field experiences for our teacher candidates in preparation for working in urban contexts,” Gunnings-Moton said. “My data continue to show that the Urban Immersion experience increases their willingness to do so.”

An urban lens

Every year, more than 100 teacher candidates in the MSU College of Education apply for the Urban Immersion Fellowship. Up to 50 are selected based on academic performance, a personal essay and teaching majors, with an emphasis on those planning to teach high-demand areas such as mathematics, science and English language learners.

“This is a program I always look forward to,” said DPS special education administrator Toni Clover, who has helped coordinate the fellowship since it started in 2003. “It’s a lot of work but it’s absolutely worth it.”

The summer program begins with a full week of orientation activities, including bus tours to historical and cultural landmarks around the city, an introduction to curriculum and teaching in DPS, and a reflective exploration of the assets available to young people in the city.

The fellows are then placed alongside working teachers in schools, where they help develop and deliver lesson plans for six full weeks. Occasionally, fellows also have been placed in community programs serving youth (see sidebar on Racquet Up). The entire group takes time out one afternoon each week to attend seminars at the MSU Detroit Center on Woodward Avenue.

Fellows receive a stipend. However, “it’s not something you can do just because you want to get some money for the summer,” said William (Eric) Janshego. A resident of South Lyon, Mich., he completed the fellowship first at Renaissance High School and a second time teaching eighth-grade science at Clippert Academy in the city’s largely Hispanic southwest area.

He has recruited several peers to apply. What does he tell them?

“It’s going to change you … It’s going to push you into new social experiences … and you are going to have to learn to act on your feet. But the joy you receive is so much greater than some of the other places you will teach.”

The experience adds a significant amount of classroom teaching time to students’ resúmes within a Teacher Preparation Program already known for requiring a large amount of fieldwork. Members of the Urban Educators Cohort Program can participate in the fellowship the summer before their junior year; all others can do so before their senior year or before the full-year internship.

“During my senior classes, I remember applying everything that I learned through this program,” said Albaugh. “My lens was completely urban all year.”

Now she has taken her urban interests and knowledge into the internship in Chicago Public Schools. Janshego returned to Detroit for his internship.

“There is such a struggle to keep people in these positions, but MSU keeps pushing us and showing us that this is a wonderful job,” Janshego said. “These kids need you just as much as anyone else.”

Learn about other ways the college is impacting the Detroit community.