A cadre of community educators
For the past two years, it has been hard to avoid a headline proclaiming that the COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on student learning. Educational leaders and practitioners have been working to craft solutions to get students caught up while simultaneously rethinking what teaching and learning look like post-pandemic. Educational researchers Matthew Kraft and Grace Falken believe high school students play an important role in that solution, serving as cross-age and near-peer tutors.
Students in the Education Professions program at Skyline High School in Mesa Public Schools are doing just that: serving as cross-age tutors to elementary school students at Stevenson Elementary School. The program is a career and technical education program designed to recruit and prepare high school students to be teachers. Students in the program typically observe or assist educators in one-teacher, one-classroom models — a model that many people and organizations think it’s time to rethink.
Skyline's Education Professions program has a unique twist. Instead of just preparing its students to be the teachers of tomorrow in one-teacher, one-classroom models, it's also preparing students to act as members of the education workforce today, serving as a cadre of community educators on teams of educators.
Community educators are youth-serving professionals and volunteers who assist in deepening and personalizing learning. They enrich learning environments by forging authentic relationships, sharing expertise and expanding networks. They play an essential role in a larger initiative of Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, called the Next Education Workforce, which works with school systems to build school models that improve upon the one-teacher, one-classroom model. In schools that adopt Next Education Workforce models, educators work on teams, distribute expertise and work collectively to deliver deeper and personalized learning experiences to a shared roster of students. Community educators are essential members of these teams.
Stevenson Elementary is just one school in Mesa Public School District that is committed to building these Next Education Workforce models and has invited Skyline Education Professions students to be community educators on their educator teams. As part of this role, Skyline’s Education Professions students will spend up to four days a week at Stevenson. They will take what they are learning in the Education Professions program and support learners on Stevenson's educator teams by serving as reading and writing tutors. To learn the knowledge and skills they need to be effective reading and writing tutors, they will dive into the Next Education Workforce initiative's nanocourses, which are collections of bite-sized, on-demand courses that teach a variety of skills needed to work with learners.
Preparing Skyline Education Professions students for a community educator role — as opposed to focusing on becoming teachers — is intentional: only a third of students in programs like Education Professions in South Carolina report that they'll pursue education as their field of study in their post-secondary life. With this in mind, Education Professions needs to deliver a program responsive to this fact. While a majority of students in these programs may not want to be teachers, they may want to work with children in some capacity. The community educator role is a viable entry point for students — and is mutually beneficial to the education workforce and K–12 learners.
If a student decides to pursue a teaching career post-graduation, the program has done its job: adding another teacher to the workforce. But, if a student decides to pursue another path, the program will have done something that it didn’t do before. Now, the student will be a prepared member of the community who is equipped with the knowledge and skills to make a difference in the lives of learners in the future — maybe not as a teacher, but as a museum educator, a teaching artist, an engineer or something else. Perhaps they’ll tutor in schools throughout their college career or volunteer in a youth-serving organization. And, who knows: After some time as a community educator, they may even pursue a professional educator role.
Skyline’s program will no longer ask students to simply observe or assist in one-teacher, one-classroom models. The program will no longer ask students to wait until tomorrow to be a member of the educator workforce as a teacher. If one thing is for certain, the Education Professions program at Skyline will prepare students for a multitude of roles in education. The entry point? As community educators, in the field, making a difference in the lives of K-12 learners. Because high school students are — and can be — meaningful members of the next education workforce today.
Help shape the future of community educators in Arizona schools at a listening session hosted by the Arizona Community Educator initiative at MLFTC.
Members of community-based organizations and businesses with youth-serving professionals and volunteers are invited to attend on Dec. 6. Register.
About the author
R. Lennon Audrain is a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. He studies the Next Education Workforce initiative and grow-your-own educator programs. He is also the CTE Education Professions teacher at Skyline High School in Mesa Public Schools, where he is working to build resources so other schools and school systems can mobilize their high schoolers as community educators.