Teacher candidates show off ingenuity through SAIL projects

by | May 7, 2018

College of Education program gives students the chance to pursue passion projects in classroom settings.

College of Education seniors Lydia Garrighan (left) and Nick Domescik present the “Education=Empowerment” SAIL project that they implemented during the spring semester as teacher candidates at McCluer North High School in Florissant. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The hallways at McCluer North High School in Florissant didn’t look all that different last August from when Lydia Garrighan roamed them regularly as a student four years earlier.

This time, the University of Missouri–St. Louis senior was a teaching candidate, embarking on her yearlong practicum as part of the College of Education’s studio schools program.

Still, she couldn’t quite shake the feeling of déjà vu.

“I was like, ‘I am back in high school,’” Garrighan said, with a laugh.

Some things were different, though. Student and teacher pride seemed higher than when she was a high schooler, thanks in large part to the MN Strong organization started by teachers.

She and the other two UMSL teaching candidates assigned to the school, Nick Domescik and Kayla Strasser Champ, wanted to do their part in MN Strong’s efforts by conceiving and executing their spring semester SAIL initiative around the theme of “Education=Empowerment.”

SAIL, short for “School Adventure into Learning,” is one of the main projects for studio-school teacher candidates from UMSL, a chance for them to see their ideas take root in a real-life educational setting.

“It can be around a problem of practice, something they want to improve about their teaching, or it can be something contextual to the school, where they want to try something new. It can be around building community and culture,” said Stephanie Koscielski, senior director of clinical experience and partnership at the UMSL College of Education. “The open-endedness of the assignment allows them to think creatively about their own professionalism. The quality they put into it, and that comes out of it, shows that they appreciate the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research and get a lot out of it.”

Domescik and Garrighan made up one of the 34 groups that presented the outcomes of their SAIL projects to instructors, fellow students and other interested parties May 3 at the ED Collabitat. Nearly 70 teacher candidates in total took turns presenting their ventures, which they had implemented at 35 of UMSL’s partner elementary, middle and high schools in the greater St. Louis area.

Among the many SAIL projects, there were fundraisers for school improvements. There were multicultural learning activities. There were STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – celebration events. There was a zine-making class for artistic elementary schoolers.

The UMSL teacher candidates put their passion into practice.

“This is really the heart of why you became teachers, why I became a teacher, and it’s what the students in our schools most need from you,” said Ann Taylor, dean of the College of Education. “Yes, they need your technical ability, they need you as an intellectual guide, but they also need your passion.”

At McCluer North, Domescik, Garrighan and Strasser Champ took a two-pronged approach. Garrighan organized a roundtable discussion in which she invited six recent alumni back to talk about their lives after graduation with the school’s seniors.

The six panelists included college students alongside ones who took a less conventional route, such as dropping out and getting a full-time job, or taking time off to volunteer with AmeriCorps.

“We wanted to empower them and get them excited about what it was going to be like after graduation,” Garrighan said. “After I graduated, I had that feeling of ‘What now?’ I wanted to have an open discussion about what they can expect and show them that we had these fears, you will have these fears, but you’ll turn out OK like we did.”

Domescik led the other part of the project with help from his UMSL cohorts. Similar to UMSL’s “Choose Your Word” campaign last year, the teacher candidates polled more than 300 students on what one word they associated the most with education. They picked the four top vote-getters – growth, opportunity, power and success – and undertook a two-day project to paint the walls outside the school’s advising offices in vibrant colors and messages that read “Education=” and then each of the four words.

The project pulled in students and staff from English, biology and social studies, as well and shop and computer classes.

“Students want to see that you actually care about them,” Domescik said. “What this project did for us was it gave us an opportunity for us to grow with them outside the classroom. They let us know that being there for them and not just teaching them was important. You have to have their respect to ever really get through to them at a teaching level.”

Koscielski said she hopes the teacher candidates will carry these ideas through to the master’s program at UMSL or into their professional careers. The university has maintained a good track record of seeing its students hired at the 36 affiliated studio schools since the program started in fall 2012.

As part of her SAIL project, Kayla Seablom worked with fourth- and fifth-graders at Flint Hill Elementary School to produce art projects that would go up for silent auction at a fundraiser for expanding, and making handicap-accessible, the playground at the new school in Wentzville.

The event raised $8,000. Even though her practicum year is coming to an end, she still talks about Flint Hill as her school.

“With our school, we know it’s growing. We’ve already outgrown the capacity of our building,” Seablom said. “We just liked having the students be involved. The kids were the ones that really did it. We pushed for it, we organized it, but they’re the ones who created it.”

Garrighan said her time at McCluer North did more than give her a chance to impact her alma mater. It clued her in to her potential.

“These projects are doable,” Garrighan said. “A lot of educators have really great ideas, but they don’t get off the paper. It showed me that a great idea can lift off.”

David Morrison

David Morrison