The Teacher Center typically provides professional learning for educators. But for this unusual school year shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, the Teacher Center expanded its mandate and applied its considerable educational expertise to student enrichment.
The free program, presented on three consecutive Saturdays in December, was a win-win for students and teachers alike.
It helped build learning for thousands of students from pre-K through high school. “We were meeting curriculum standards with fun activities,” said the Teacher Center’s Tiffany Jefferson.
And for the school-based Teacher Center site coaches who led many of the sessions, the program was a professional learning experience, too. “We teach them how to get the kids engaged and excited in the classroom,” said Jefferson. “We use music, art, history — all these things have an impact on student energy.”
UFT Vice President for Education Mary Vaccaro said the union will hold its second round of enrichment sessions on Saturday, April 10, and Saturday, April 24. “We recognize how challenging this year has been, and we want to offer our public school families this opportunity for their children to learn and grow,” she said.
More than 4,000 students registered for the third and final Saturday of the series. Some attended all three Saturday sessions, but they didn’t have to. “We designed it so we had a review or scaffold,” Jefferson said. “If you weren’t there the first week, we started the next with an activity that would get you ready for the week’s new learning, so no one felt left out.”
The Teacher Center created sessions each week tailored to different age groups: 3-K to Pre-K, kindergarten to 1st grade, grades 2-3, grades 4-5, grades 6-8 and high school. The higher the grades, the more engagement was expected from students and the more they were asked to produce.
Students in grades 2-3 studied how different cultures celebrate holidays. They learned about history and customs and geography in places like Japan, China, Australia and India. Students in grades 4-5 had to solve an alien mystery by making claims, submitting evidence and then using reasoning. The sessions for grades 6-8 focused on drama. Students learned how to develop monologues, perform them, revise them and present them to each other.
Rocio Zumaya, a parent leader in the Bronx, said the extra support outside school was especially beneficial during this school year. She referred more than 100 families to the program.
“On a Saturday, parents get to experience what it’s like to learn in a classroom and to see what their child is doing,” she said. “A lot of parents can’t do that during the week.”