Lisa Piscitelli, a fourth-grade teacher at Forest Elementary School in West Haven, believes the year she spent as a Sacred Heart graduate teaching intern gave her the skills, feedback and confidence she needed to succeed in the classroom as well as made her the first candidate to be called by Forest Principal Thomas Hunt when a permanent job became available.
“In many ways, my internship was like a year-long job interview,” Piscitelli said. “Administrators saw my growth and abilities, and by the end of the internship period, I was familiar with the students and the school. It was a good match for both of us, and a really great opportunity for me. My Sacred Heart experience was nothing but positive.”
It was also prudent financially. Like most Graduate Teacher Internship students, Piscitelli took advantage of the ability to complete the student teaching requirement and receive 33 of the average 48 credits required to earn State Certification and a Master’s Degree — all paid for by the school system where she works.
“At the time, I had a newborn and had just bought a house, so having this tuition benefit was huge,” Piscitelli said. “But there was so much I appreciated about Sacred Heart’s teacher internship program, particularly the feedback. Staff who came in to watch and monitor me gave immediate feedback, and I had mentors who were always available to bounce ideas off of or turn to with questions. The support was great.”
During any school year, as many as 300 graduate students from Sacred Heart’s Isabelle Farrington School of Education spend their days performing supervised internships at public elementary, middle and high schools throughout Fairfield and New Haven counties. On-campus or online courses are then completed in the evening.
It’s an intense schedule for sure, said program co-founder and co-director Prof. Mike Giarratano, but also one that generally provides a large payoff.
“Without an internship, you get a good classroom education, but no opportunity to put the theories you’ve learned to use,” Giarratano said. “As a student teacher, you don’t just teach, but go to faculty meetings, take part in staff and professional development, attend PPT meetings and interact with parents one-on-one and at open houses. The experience is invaluable.”
Also invaluable, Piscitelli said, was the thorough and immediate feedback she received from her Forest School mentor and observing Sacred Heart faculty members: “If I did something well, they complimented me. And if there was something I could have done better, they told me right away, so I could correct it that day. The self-reflection journal they encouraged us to keep also helped a lot.”
Recognized by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education as one of the U.S.'s top 10 producers of initial teacher certification candidates, the program provides graduate students with professors who are also current or former teachers or administrators. Giarratano, as an example, spent 25 years as an elementary principal – and more than 38 years in education overall before coming to Sacred Heart in 2005 to work with co-director Dr. Lois Libby to develop the Graduate Teacher Internship Program. Prior to coming to Sacred Heart in 1998, Libby worked as a French teacher, guidance counselor and school administrator.
“Truly, the Graduate Teacher Internship Program is a win-win-win,” Giarratano said. “The interns win because they get an amazing and invaluable learning experience. The schools that participate win, because they get well-trained interns who come in every day, eager to work and who, over the course of a year, get to know the curriculum, students and staff. And Sacred Heart wins, because it’s able to provide students with this great tuition opportunity, along with the satisfaction that we’re making a difference and helping advance the quality of education. The results are big for all of us involved.”