This Saturday, Yale’s oldest service program, the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation, celebrates its 50th anniversary. It’s an occasion to reflect on our community, and on Yale students’ work with New Haven students specifically.
“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Theodore Roosevelt’s words resonate a century later. We all seek a place, and a role, in which our labor has meaning. Among the ways to “work hard at work worth doing” is to teach. You can make the greatest impact in rural and urban public schools.
Teaching is a position of leadership in the classroom, and the most effective teachers are leaders among their colleagues, too. Here’s a challenge: embrace teaching to cultivate your leadership qualities while helping younger generations to learn.
Anyone considering entering public school teaching should be aware of opportunities in New Haven. For an introduction to the district and its students, there are numerous routes to pursue as tutors or mentors. Dwight Hall’s Public School Interns can facilitate this experience.
The America Reads and America Counts initiatives provide federal work-study funds for Yale students to tutor New Haven students in reading and math. A similar one-on-one approach characterizes the Urban Improvement Corps, which for three decades has brought New Haven students to the Afro-American Cultural Center for tutoring. TIES and Youth Together are other organizations that work with elementary and secondary students, respectively.
This is just a sampling of educational ventures in which Yale students are engaged. In addition, campus undergrads have founded Students For Teachers, with a journal and other efforts to advocate improved school quality. Such activities could be the prelude to a career in public education.
For individuals with the talent, drive and compassion for children and teens necessary to be public school teachers, there are many rewards to be found locally. Yale students considering applying to Teach For America, for example, should also know that they can make a difference right here.
If you decide to teach in New Haven, you can train either through the Yale Teacher Preparation Program or through the State of Connecticut’s Alternate Route to Certification.
Yale alums are already leaders in New Haven public and charter schools, from the supervisor of language instruction in the district, to teachers and administrators from K-12. Not only charter schools, but also other local public “schools of choice” offer prospective teachers theme-based curricula in the arts, civics and government, sciences or technology. Postdoctoral scientist, Huan Ngo, a former Yale researcher, was featured in a front-page Hartford Courant article on the success that he is enjoying teaching at New Haven’s Sheridan Middle School — the only one in Connecticut to receive designation as a NASA Explorer School.
Any New Haven public school teacher can apply to be a Fellow in the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute (http://www.yale.edu/ynhti), a 26-year-old partnership. Through the Institute, teachers and Yale professors work together in a collegial relationship that brings every teacher Fellow privileges of membership in the University community. The Institute’s small-group seminars encourage camaraderie as well as exchanges about pedagogy while participants explore subjects in the sciences and humanities that teachers identify as curricular priorities. Each Fellow develops a curriculum unit to be taught in his or her classroom and published, both in print and online.
New Haven’s Teacher of the Year for 2003-2004, Waltrina Kirkland-Mullins of Davis Street School, is a six-time Institute Fellow. Many of the district’s other outstanding teachers are or have been Fellows. The Institute recognizes teachers’ contributions and is a forum for their creativity and leadership on students’ behalf.
There are connections between the Institute and the organization marking its 50th anniversary on Saturday, the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation. Grant is an enrichment program in which Yale students teach summer classes for New Haven students. The Teacher of the Year, Mullins, and her husband happen to be New Haven residents and the parents of a teenage Grant alum, who studied for four summers in classes that Yale students led. James Vivian, a Grant student director in the mid-1960s, launched the Institute 10 years later as a partnership between the Yale faculty and New Haven Public Schools.
The Institute grew out of the History Education Project, a 1970 initiative between Yale’s History Department and local high school teachers. Another former Grant student director, Jonathan Fanton (now president of the MacArthur Foundation and a panelist on Saturday), was instrumental in the History Education Project.
The U.S. Grant Foundation celebration on Nov. 15 includes a panel discussion in Linsly-Chittenden 102 highlighting the work of Grant teachers and students during the past half-century. This event should provide context and inspiration to anyone interested in Yale’s connection to New Haven, particularly in how students from the university and community can collaborate for mutual benefit.
Whatever your academic concentration or your current job, if you want to support public schools, you’ll see that you can do so directly here in New Haven. Be a leader. Volunteer as a tutor or a mentor. And consider becoming a teacher yourself.
Josiah H. Brown ’92 is a New Haven resident and associate director of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.