When students teach: Teenagers teach younger kids to pave way as educators


By AGENCY
  • Family
  • Friday, 23 Feb 2024

Avouwadan reads the book 'Pete the Cat' to 20-month-old Daniela Trevino at the Play 2 Learn programme at Duluth Middle School. — Photos: JASON GETZ/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS

ARIYAH White, three, is excited whenever she goes to school. At Duluth Middle School’s Play 2 Learn, she gets the opportunity to play games, review numbers and letters and become used to being in a classroom with other kids her age.

She spent part of a recent class session matching blocks with their corresponding flat shape. Each time she placed one correctly, eighth grader Jahrian Clyde was there to cheer for her and hand over the next block. To Ariyah, Clyde is a teacher. But as much as she is learning from Clyde, he’s learning from her.

Clyde is part of a class of eighth graders at the school who are getting their first teaching experience by working with younger students. It’s part of a pilot programme in Gwinnett County Public Schools to help middle school students get a head start on a possible career.

The programme is a convergence of two growing endeavours in education: promoting early learning and expanding career and technical education. Teaching as a Profession is one of several career pathways in Gwinnett that provides early exposure to in-demand careers and sets students up for further training in their desired fields. The programme in Duluth is the first in a Gwinnett middle school.

Kelly Nix, Gwinnett’s coordinator of early learning and school readiness, credited school principal Cindy Kinchen with the innovation: “She recognised the unique opportunity to serve early learning families in her community while also providing students in the Teaching as Profession Pathway with real-world experience to support their coursework,” Nix said.

To enrol in the introductory teaching class, students had to apply, participate in an interview and provide past teachers as references. Teaching as a Profession teacher Jeff Mraz said the process is meant to mirror applying for a job.

“Hopefully, those kids will love ... examining the profession in year one, and they’ll continue the pathway when they get to high school,” said Beth Autrey, the district’s coordinator of academies and career and technical education.

Clyde plays with three-year-old White at the programme.Clyde plays with three-year-old White at the programme.

Education initiative

Play 2 Learn is an early education initiative at schools throughout Gwinnett for students ages zero to four. On a recent Wednesday, Duluth Middle School teacher Elizabeth Dixon led the class through songs and read stories that went over numbers and changing seasons. Then the children broke off into various activities with clay, blocks, sand and other educational toys in the classroom.

That’s when the eighth graders get to join the fun. They may read a book or draw with a child. They can play games or just shovel sand into buckets.

Clyde said he’s enjoyed seeing the younger students start to remember the songs and beginning to count. Patience has been an important lesson.

“Some kids learn faster than others, and sometimes they can be shy,” Clyde said. He focuses more on matching the students’ energy and making sure they’re having fun than trying to implement a lesson.

Grace Polzin, another eighth grader in the programme, said the younger children are perceptive and respond more to how she presents herself than what she says. “They notice how you react,” she said. Polzin is uncertain if she wants to pursue a career in education, but she said working in Play 2 Learn has sparked an interest in how children learn math.

Mraz plays with a child at the Play 2 Learn programme. The students he teaches are part of this teaching profession programme.Mraz plays with a child at the Play 2 Learn programme. The students he teaches are part of this teaching profession programme.

Different environments

Mia Avouwadan said Teaching as a Profession is helpful because she and other students are exposed to a variety of environments.

“It helps you decide if you want to work with the little ones or the more mature students,” she said. Shadowing a teacher in a middle school classroom, she observed it can be difficult to keep a class on task and keep chatter in check. She was surprised in Play 2 Learn how shy some students are and how long it can take for them to feel comfortable with new people.

Polzin said the programme is useful for deciding whether to commit to a career in education. “This helps you better understand what you’re getting into,” rather than someone being years into a degree and realising they struggle relating to kids, she said.

Mraz said giving future teachers a chance to practise classroom skills early will benefit their first students about 10 years later.

“You start working on classroom management and shadowing teachers when you’re in middle school, then you’re going to go on to high school and get a few more years of experience and you’re prepared for college,” Mraz said.

“They’re going in like professionals already, and that’s a big thing. We need those qualified educators.” – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/ Tribune News Service

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