GCU partners with local primary school

Grand Canyon University’s College of Education recently formed a partnership with neighbor Westwood Primary School, which will give GCU students experience in classrooms and provide more teaching assistance for Westwood students and teachers.

Under the program, 45 GCU juniors and seniors spend three days a week at Westwood, observing the primary teacher with his/her students and later adding their own lesson plans. The College of Education requires all students to have 100 hours of internship teaching, so this partnership allows them to accomplish that while assisting their community and getting invaluable, hands-on experience.

Professor Jena Akard explains that the biggest advantage of this program is the immersion the students receive. “They get to write lessons for real students every single week,” she states. “We’re working on three lessons per class — the students wrote and taught lessons together. Then the classroom teacher gives them feedback and they revise their lesson based on what they learn for the next week. In the meantime, they really get to know these kids.”

Professor Akard teaches a methods course, in which students learn best practices and strategies for classroom teaching. Without this partnership, she points out, her students would have to practice these methods on their collegiate peers. While this role-playing exercise is still useful, it doesn’t compare to the application of these strategies in a real classroom.

In addition, the partnership helps the Westwood teachers and students by providing them with more assistance for an improved student-to-teacher ratio. “Teachers want to differentiate — learning isn’t the same for all children,” Akard notes. “If I had two other adults in the room that are trained, I could do so much more targeted assistance with children. Really, in the classroom, it benefits the teachers.”

Dean of the College of Education Dr. Kimberly LaPrade points out that in addition to helping students in the classroom, it also inspires them to pursue higher education. According to Dr. LaPrade, Westwood students have told their principal that they want to attend GCU when they grow up. She emphasizes the importance of this early-childhood educational enthusiasm, noting, “The earlier we can plant that seed, the earlier we can change that [educational] trajectory.”

Professor Akard mentions that the “Lope’s Up” hand gesture has become a common attention signal in Westwood classrooms. And before these Westwood students know it, maybe they’ll be tossing up the “Lope’s Up” at GCU, preparing to be the state’s next wave of innovators.   

Ben Norman

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