On any given morning at one of Prospect Schools' campuses in Brooklyn, as students buzz between classrooms and prepare for life beyond its walls, there is another education under way.
With support from the Walton Family Foundation, graduate students from New York University’s Steinhardt School are paired with local urban schools for a year to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching through the Teacher Residency Program, receiving reduced tuition and teaching stipends along the way.
The program is every bit a residency—with aspiring young educators in the classroom each day. Paired with a mentor teacher, they gradually assume more responsibility, creating lesson plans, assessing student progress and facilitating learning with middle and high school pupils at one of the most intentionally diverse schools in New York City.
Outside school hours, residents complete graduate-level coursework led by NYU’s renowned education faculty.
Prospect Schools works with Steinhardt to give a “double yes” to teachers who will be doing their residency at the school before they are even accepted into the prestigious NYU program.
For Aisha Siddiqui, a graduate of the program who went on to be hired by Prospect Schools to teach high school science, embedding at a school held enormous appeal.
Aisha, whose previous career was in medical lab sciences, felt a draw to teaching her entire life. “I’ve always felt that there were elements of our educational system that needed change,” she says. “I decided that it was time to stop talking and actually do something about it.”
Research has shown that the strongest way to produce effective teachers who stay in the profession longer is through immersive learning. This program wastes no time on that front. “From day one, you are in school every single day,” Aisha explains.
The foundation’s support of the Steinhardt residency program is part of a larger effort to support traditional colleges of education as they recruit, train and increase the diversity of future teachers.
At Steinhardt, 45% of teacher candidates are people of color. It’s a critical achievement, particularly as they work to support Prospect Schools, where building a truly inclusive and diverse community is central to the organization's mission.
Serving 1,500 K-12 students across four campuses divided by grade level, Prospect Schools has an exceptionally diverse student body for New York City.
For the last 10 years, Prospect Schools has reserved about half of its seats for low-income students, a policy that aligns with a new diversity plan put forth by Brooklyn’s District 15, where Prospect Schools has both a middle and high school.
Having a pipeline of diverse faculty that more closely reflects the student population helps students perform better in school, studies have shown.
“The residency model has been a really nice way for us to broaden the pool of folks we are able to consider,” says Jordan Huller, Director of Human Resources and Talent. “For us to have a partner like NYU has been a great way to widen the net we cast for educators who believe deeply in our work.”
The program also serves a diverse range of student learners. For example, all candidates enrolled in the residency are being prepared to teach students with special needs as well as English language learners.
Brannon O’Connor, a current resident, works with special education students and teaches math at Prospect School’s Clinton Hill Middle School. Brannon previously worked for a Chicago nonprofit, but felt drawn to making a more direct impact inside the classroom.
“Middle school can be tough,” she adds. “But I am finding day-by-day that building personal relationships with these kids goes a long way towards success.”
One reason Brannon was drawn to Prospect Schools was its commitment to Integrated Co-Teaching, in which special needs students are included in all regular classes—an approach consistent with her own educational values.
At the program’s core is the idea that aspiring teachers who have the benefit of these immersive experiences today can become the veteran educational leaders of tomorrow.
Aisha is hopeful for the future, with aspirations to impact education policy on a larger scale. But, she says, “until you’ve been there, with strong experience in the classroom, you really can’t understand what needs to be changed.”