SHU to Partner with Bridgeport Schools for Internship Program

News Story: June 18, 2013

Sacred Heart University has been offering an internship program for students in the Isabelle Farrington College of Education at Sacred Heart University for about 27 years, and that program is about to expand. “The original internship started as a grant program in which a local school district allows graduate candidates to come in and provide instructional services to the school district that year,” said Lois Libby, professor of Education at Sacred Heart. Libby developed and administers the graduate internship program, which generally enrolls and places 200 interns in school districts in southwestern Connecticut. “Ten weeks of the year, a graduate student is student teaching. By the end, they have a year’s experience in teaching and we call it a year-long interview,” said Libby. At the end of the year, the students are certified in their area of specialty—either secondary or elementary education.”

Over the years, Bridgeport has sometimes participated in the graduate internship program. Now Bridgeport Public Schools has decided to partner with Sacred Heart in The Five-Year Program, which is a grant program providing scholarships to qualifying undergraduate education candidates in their sophomore year. The program adds seven courses above degree requirements toward initial teacher certification during the students’ junior and senior years, and during their fifth year, they will complete their Master of Arts in teaching. Also during the fifth year, candidates will serve as interns in Bridgeport public schools for a full year.

“The new initiative was part of Bridgeport Superintendent Paul G. Vallas’ long term plan to up the ante in terms of more interns and more field experience,” said Michael Giarratano, professor of Education and co-director of the Intern and Fifth-Year Programs. “We saw an opportunity for undergraduates. Students will join the program in their junior and senior years and will gain a full year of practical experience in one school as they take graduate education courses.”

Students in the program are in areas of teacher shortage, such as math, science, mathematics and English. In the students’ junior year, they will begin providing instructional assistance through substitute teaching, grade level assistance, tutoring, guiding small instructional groups, chaperoning field trips, leading school projects based on personal talents and expertise and conducting remediation lessons as recommended in learning plans. “They typically go in groups,so they can learn from each other, help each other out and consult with one another,” Libby said.

Giarratano noted that most elementary candidates are placed in Discovery Magnet School or John Winthrop School, while most secondary students work at Central High School. Regardless of the location, each Bridgeport school provides a coordinator to work with the undergraduates.

In the students’ senior year, they will continue in the same school, gaining valuable field experience before the even earn their undergraduate degree. “Superintendent Vallas has agreed that after the two years of volunteering are completed, students will be guaranteed an internship in the fifth year. All internships are paid,” Giarratano said. Another appealing factor beyond on-the-job experience and a paid internship is that, for the post graduate year, 33 credits will be paid for by the internship program, and candidates only need to pay for six credits. The superintendent is looking to place 80 Sacred Heart interns into classrooms doing meaningful volunteer work. “If they go through all of the steps, the superintendent will also guarantee a job interview,” said Giarratano.

This partnership is a win-win for both Bridgeport and Sacred Heart. “The students really become a part of that school. If they do the whole package, they will have three years with one school before graduating,” Giarratano pointed out.  Libby noted the importance of hands-on experience: “The students will be receiving training in urban education that they wouldn’t get otherwise, and the internship phase gives them more individual contact with their students.” Giarratano echoed Libby, adding that the newly trained teachers will be able to effectively improve Bridgeport schools through this integrated approach. “They see a need; they have been there in the schools; and they can do something to make a change,” he said.