Every Wednesday and Friday, approximately 20 West Potomac students board a bus and head over to Hollin Meadows Elementary School. They spend their fifth or sixth period there working with students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
It's a win-win situation; the West Potomac students get to try their hand at teaching, while the students and teachers at Hollin Meadows benefit from the teacher cadets' extra hands and their enthusiasm.
The Teacher Cadet Course runs all year, but the students only go work in the classrooms from November to February, and again from February to May. The rest of the time is spent in their own classroom. Here they learn about making class plans and working with children from different ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities.
This comes in handy at Hollin Meadows, which is a Project Excel school. Instructor Barbara Yancey said that she selected Hollin Meadows because, "My children went here, it's close to West Potomac, and I knew it was diverse. Plus, Mr. Gates [the principal] is so easy to work with."
Gates is pleased with the program, and said, "The cadets have been a wonderful addition to our school. They are top-notch and I'm hoping that some of them will get into teacher prep programs. In a few years, they would be the people I'd be looking to hire."
Students credit the success of the program to Yancey, who teaches five days a week.
"We are definitely blessed to have her. She knows what she's doing and has a lot of insight about being a teacher," said Alexandra Borum, a senior at West Potomac who has been helping out in Nanci Osborne's class.
"I think it's going very well. We're all learning a lot and there are things I want to change," said Yancey, who's already recruiting students for next year's class.
BECAUSE THIS IS a pilot program being tried in four high schools in Fairfax County, Yancey said that she's learning a lot about how to do things logistically. If she can enlist the aid of another teacher, she's hoping Eric Brent, principal at West Potomac, will approve the expansion of the course to two schools. If that happens, Yancey said that she can take more students and give them the choice of two different schools. They have not been able to coordinate with either of the middle schools because of conflicting schedules; however one of her students, Lindsay Aitcheson, will be teaching with History Teacher Bill Rhatican.
"Not every high school student can handle being in a class with their peers," said Yancey.
Some teacher cadets can elect to stay in the same classroom for both sessions, while others can choose another class during the second session.
Elaine Fitzgerald has been working with Janet Kim and her second-grade students this session, but will go onto another class for the next session.
"I'm interested in becoming a teacher and trying out the different grade levels," said Fitzgerald. "I help out and get a chance to interact; the other day I got to teach. They're an awesome class; very well behaved."
"They love her; as soon as she comes in she gets right into it. She's very helpful; you don't have to explain things to her," said Kim, who isn't quite sure how she's going to tell the kids that Fitzgerald is leaving soon.
"The kids will be upset," said Kim.
The students in Samantha Melton's fourth-grade class will also miss Lindsay Aitcheson when she goes to teach at West Potomac.
"She [Lindsay] splits with me and Mr. Moore, she comes in during Social Studies — she's a real history buff and meets with small groups. She's fantastic, I'm sorry that we only have her for two more weeks," said Melton.
Aitcheson has enjoyed the experience and said, "This is great, I've never done anything like this before."
She's hoping to attend either the University of Utah or James Madison University. She's planning to go into communications initially and teach later, just like her soon-to-be mentor, Bill Rhatican, did.
BORUM, ON THE OTHER HAND, wants to teach right away. After graduation, she plans to attend Christopher Newport University, a five-year teaching Masters program in Newport, Va. She then wants to join Americorps, the United States version of the Peace Corps.
"My favorite part is being able to teach kids; it's exciting to see them learn," said Borum. "The teachers [at Hollin Meadows] have been very cooperative."
Yancey confirms that, and said that some of the teachers are gracious enough to take on two cadets. This is the case in both Nanci Osborne's class, where both Borum and Emily Olsen help out. Melinda Sprinkle also has two cadets in her second-grade class: Ansley Labarre and Sarah Mason.
Julianna Strock has one cadet, but is very thankful that it's Caitlin Keany.
"I don't know what I'd do without Caitlin. We need her here everyday. The kids love her, she's just so positive. She walks in the door and the kids want to hug her. She's so seamless, she just blends in," said Strock.
Not all students who take the course decide to go onto teaching. In some cases, it can show them how much they do not want to teach. This happened with Emily Olsen. Olsen's mother is a teacher at Ramsay Elementary in Alexandria and Olsen has done a lot of babysitting; working in a classroom has shown her how much work there is to running a classroom.
"I realize that I don't want to teach. I've worked as a receptionist for a real estate office and realize that I like the business aspect better," said Olsen, who's hoping to go to Virginia Tech for business marketing degree.