youth help educate one young teacher
When they first drove into Chicagos south side, says Kelly
Anderson, some students became nervous. Windswept streets, overflowing
garbage cans, windows with steel bars. Looking out the windows of
their van, many were seeing genuine poverty for the first time.
But it didnt take long for them to settle in, join the community,
and begin working. During the day, Anderson assisted at the Cesar
E. Chavez Elementary School. Afternoons, she volunteered at the
Robert Taylor Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, which is located on
the grounds of the Robert Taylor Homes, the second-poorest urban
community in the nation.
It was the spring of 1999, the inaugural year of The University
of Iowas Chicago Experience program. Developed by Rahima Wade,
an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the College
of Education, the program offered elementary education majors the
opportunity to spend a week in Chicagoover spring breakwork
in inner-city schools, volunteer with childrens agencies,
complete their community service-learning requirement, fulfill a
portion of their classroom practicum, and earn one semester hour
of education credit.
"I was so gung-ho about it," says Anderson, a 1999 College of Education
graduate. "The inner-city life and what these children have to go
through really intrigued me. I wanted to see how these kids overcome
obstacles and find out what makes some kids strive to succeed, even
in difficult environments."
At the time, Anderson was a special education major from a mid-sized
college town in West Virginia, planning to return home after graduation
to teach children with physical handicaps. But shed felt glimmers
of a different calling: four years earlier, working as a camp counselor
outside Buffalo, N.Y., Anderson had connected with a group of at-risk
children from the city. Now, the Chicago Experience gave her an
opportunity to find out if this might be her niche. She discovered
within a day that it was.
"At Chavez school, I implemented behavioral modification programs
for the kids," Anderson recalls. "I did everything from recess duty
to work in the autism classroom. At the Boys and Girls Club, I ran
self-esteem classes and other enrichment programs for adolescents.
The point was to keep them off the streets, basically, so we did
everything: dancing, basketball, drama, games, computers."
It was an exhausting week that packed in far more than a semesters
worth of learning. But Anderson was elated. She knew shed
found her calling and immediately accepted when she was offered
a full-time, three-week summer position working with the Robert
This is exactly the effect Wade had been hoping to have when she
conceived the program after meeting the coordinator of the Urban
Life Center, a nonprofit agency that arranges experiential learning
opportunities in Chicago. The center worked with Wade to provide
lodging, orientation, and manage placements in the schools and neighborhood
"Students who participate in the Chicago Experience learn firsthand
about inner-city life, diverse children, and the challenges of teaching
in a large city public school system," Wade says. "While many sign
up out of curiosity and the excitement of spending a week in a big
city with their peers, some return with an interest in teaching
in the inner-city. Even those students who realize that inner city
teaching is not for them benefit in terms of learning about cities
and diversity and bringing that knowledge to their future teaching
in suburban or rural areas."
There appears to be no downside to the Chicago Experience: it is
a boon both for the inner-city schools it serves and for the University.
This is why it quickly became an annual program offered by the College
of Education. But perhaps no one has benefited from Wades
innovation more than students like Anderson.
After graduation, she moved to Kansas City, Kan., where she began
working on a masters degree and teaching in an autism and
behavioral disorders program in a Kansas City, Mo., school. In spring
2001, Anderson completed an M.A. degree and now supervises an emotional
mental health program for at-risk children.
"This is the sort of work where you have to get up and remember
each morning where these kids are coming from," Anderson says. "Last
year, four of the 11 children I taught had felony charges against
them. What they need is a positive experience at school, and I try
to give that to them. I know that this is what I want to do for
the rest of my life."