WEISSMANN: Strength through education

In 2011, Stefan Pryor ’93 was named Connecticut’s commissioner of education. Pryor is a former policy advisor to the mayor of New Haven. He also co-founded Amistad Academy, a high-performing public charter school that still exists in New Haven today. Last year, Tom James ’12 received his certification and began teaching high school math at High School in the Community, another local school.

What do these Yalies have in common? They both studied in the now-defunct Yale Teacher Preparation program as undergraduates. They have both committed themselves to giving back to the education system in the city where they studied.

These are only two examples of the many people who have been influenced by studying education at Yale. At almost every New Haven high school, you can find a teacher who became certified through the graduate Urban Education program, or who completed the Teacher Preparation program as undergraduates. But both of these programs are no longer offered at Yale. Instead, I met these teachers in the only current avenue for Yale students to pursue education — the small and disparate set of courses that remains, called Education Studies. Now it is unclear what the future of Education Studies will be at Yale.

I was inspired by the teachers that I met while taking these courses: the creativity and intelligence that goes into creating lesson plans, the dedication involved in working in urban education and the painstaking reflection that seems crucial to a teacher’s success. These teachers have reaffirmed my desire to work inside a classroom after I leave Yale.

Not only does the program provide positive role models for future teachers, it exposes students to the actual problems faced by New Haven schools today. By involving Yale students in the New Haven education system, we increase the chance that they will return to the Elm City as educators, administrators or future policymakers.

In 2010, President Levin attested to Yale’s commitment to local education through the New Haven Promise, a scholarship program for New Haven high school students. “Yale’s strength is inextricably linked to the community’s strength,” he said in a 2010 speech marking the launch of the program. “Yale’s support flows from our commitment to New Haven and our belief that quality education should be accessible to all.”

If Yale is truly committed to quality education in New Haven, we should provide students with a program that promotes their future involvement in the education system.

While there are plenty of extracurricular activities that place Yale students in classrooms, Education Studies has given students the theoretical background to understand what they see in a classroom, and the foundation in policy that enables them to change it.

So let’s take the steps that are necessary to preserve Education Studies at Yale. In a News article on Monday, Dean Miller said that the changes happening to the program “are actually a transition rather than a phasing out.” However, the administration has left this program in limbo for the past two years, deterring prospective Yalies interested in education and interfering with current students’ plans of study. If there is a plan for a new Education Studies program, why has the administration been so reluctant to share it with students?

The administration needs to make a clear statement on their vision for the future of Education Studies. Their program should take into account the student need for a clearly structured program of study with classes on theory, policy and practice.

More than just one professor should teach these classes, to ensure students receive a diverse perspective — an important component of any program of study. Courses from other departments, such as Psychology, Statistics and the Child Studies program, should be cross-listed in the program in order to ensure that students can engage in a holistic study of education. This program should be connected to the existing structures involved in the New Haven education system, such as the Dwight Hall Education Network.

If Yale is serious about its commitment to the New Haven community, it should invest something more valuable than its money in the education system: its students.

Sophia Weissmann is a junior in Silliman College. Contact her at sophia.weissmann@yale.edu .

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