“When I was growing up, I didn’t think I’d be a teacher. My parents were both teachers; my sister is a teacher; it’s the family occupation,” explains Aaron Stites, a fresh face in this year’s Teacher Education Program cohort at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education. “I was a probation officer for the State of Colorado for over four years, volunteered for six months to teach in Latin America and ended up as the director of an education program down in Nicaragua for 22 months. I was the program coordinator for a teen homeless shelter for a year and worked for the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver in an educational summer camp teaching 5th grade. I learned firsthand, that teaching was what I enjoyed most.”

His work experience, time abroad, and his family’s influence, along with some inspiration from teachers back home in Grand Junction helped Aaron confirm his passion for teaching. After deciding on a career path, Aaron started researching Teacher Education programs in the state of Colorado. “DU is head and shoulders above other programs in the state,” commented Stites. “It’s a selective, one year program based on a gradual release model, where students are placed in cohorts for a brief classroom period before learning InContext with an apprentice teacher and a classroom of students. I applied, interviewed, got accepted, and now I’m here.”

A Day in the Life of an Apprentice Teacher_1Among several cognate options, Aaron selected focused coursework around culturally and linguistically diverse learners for his masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Before starting classes at Morgridge College of Education, Aaron received his apprentice teacher and classroom assignment at Bryant-Webster Elementary School in the Denver Public School System to learn from and teach with Ginger Skelton and her 5th grade classroom. Bryant-Webster is the only early childhood education through 8th grade dual-language school in the state. Students at Bryant-Webster are on the course to be bilingual, bi-cultural and bi-literate in both Spanish and English by the 8th grade.

The first quarter of classes at DU started with four intensive courses: Second Language Acquisition with Dr. Maria Salazar, Teaching and Learning Environments with Jessica Lerner, Special Education with Dr. Molly Leamon, and Teaching Mathematics for Elementary Teachers with Dr. Richard Kitchen and Dr. Terrence Blackman. Stites elaborates: “In a matter of weeks, everything we’ve learned feels like six months of coursework. But I’ve already developed baseline fundamentals of managing a classroom, working with diverse populations and breaking down the subject most elementary teachers fear the most, math. All of these classes moved quickly to get us in our classrooms where it all comes together with experiential learning. You start with your classroom on their first day of school and observe the apprentice teacher for a while; eventually, you teach a lesson, then a few lessons, a full day, and ultimately a full week. It’s overwhelming, everything teachers have to do, but we get to see the whole process, from day one to the end of the year, all with the same group of kids.”

Before students filled the classrooms and hallways, Aaron joined Ginger and other Bryant-Webster faculty and administration for professional development, reviewing the philosophies of the school and the district and setting goals for the 2013-2014 academic year. Aaron describes his first few weeks in his apprentice classroom: “It has been rewarding to observe Ginger the past few weeks. She is a consummate professional and with 16 years of teaching experience, she has everything set up perfectly and collaborates often with other teachers. That first week with students is all about establishing expectations, behaviors and routines. It surprised me how much she went over transitions like changing classrooms or sitting down for floor time, but the kids really responded to it. I am excited to get to know my 5th grade classroom better; it’s a really interesting age because the kids are getting ready to transition to the next level, but are still definitely kids.”

Throughout the year, the InContext learning at Bryant-Webster will be coupled with many more classes at MCE. Stites reflects on his experience at MCE so far: “My cohort is filled with people of all different ages, from various places and diverse backgrounds. People came from occupations such as finance, the corporate world, international education, or are recent graduates. Most of the students are from Colorado, but many of my fellow classmates are from New York, California, and Tennessee (as well as other states). It’s enlightening for everyone when you have that kind of diversity. And each professor I’ve had has been extraordinary; no matter what the situation, they’ve ‘been there, done that’. Our teachers do the things that we need to do in our classroom, like setting up different ways of learning and displaying objectives for the day; they are modeling how to be an effective teacher.”

There are months to go and there is much to learn, but when asked what his dream job is, Aaron answers, “I’m concentrated on being a good teacher, to feel like I’ve made an impact and that my kids are getting the knowledge and understanding they need to move on to the next level … that, is my dream job.”

Click here to learn more about the program Aaron Stites is in, the Teacher Education Preparation program.

Dr. William Cross Jr. is a leading theorist and researcher in the psychology and identity development of minorities. His book, “Shade of Black”, is considered a classic in the field of racial identity. He is the President-Elect of American Psychological Association’s Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), an Elder of 2013 National Multicultural Conference, a CUNY Professor Emeritus, and a Distinguished Lecturer at Georgia Southern University.

Cross began his academic career at the University of Denver, graduating in 1963 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. He became heavily involved with the social movements of the 60’s and 70’s and pursued a PhD from Princeton in Psychology with the focus on African American Studies, which has been at the heart of his research and career for the past 40 years. Cross’s most noted contribution to the field was the development of the Nigresence Theory in 1971, distinguishing the different stages of a person’s life as they explore their identity as it relates to their race and the race of others around them. Cross’s Nigresence Theory on identity development has been adapted to apply to both racial and social minority groups.

As the President-Elect of the Division 45, Dr. William Cross Jr. leads the American Psychological Association group to “encourage research on ethnic minority issues and [apply] psychological knowledge to ethnic minority issues”. At the upcoming 2014 American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention in Washington D.C., Cross plans on driving the agenda to highlighting two key topics: the incarceration of people of color and the lived experience of LGBT people of color. Cross and the rest of Division 45 are also drawing attention to the role of women, gay and lesbians, and people with disabilities within the American Psychological Association, as these minority groups are often underrepresented within the organization.

Cross blends his passion with scholarship to educate others and bring awareness to minority issues both nationally and locally. Later this month, Cross will be giving an important talk to students at the University of Texas at Austin to encourage scholars to continue to research the Nigresence Theory. “There are things about the Nigresence Theory that haven’t been researched enough, I want to push scholars to explore new areas of the theory and new directions in research,” Cross explains.

Over the course of his career, Dr. William Cross Jr. has come full circle, back to the University of Denver, where it all began. He currently serves a clinical professor at DU’s Morgridge College of Education in the Counseling Psychology and Higher Education programs. On the DU campus, Cross has worked with the Center for Multicultural Excellence (CME), supporting inclusive excellence and speaking at CME events on multicultural issues. In efforts to cultivate leadership and emphasize college access among young black males, Cross also participated in CME’s 2013 Black Male Initiative Summit.

Cross comments, “I feel very fortunate to have lived the life I’ve led. I’ve been married for over 40 years, with a daughter who lives in Denver; so moving to Denver has reunited our family.” Cross and his daughter have written two pieces together, one on self-concept and the other exploring racial identity development from a life span perspective. Cross and his daughter are also thinking about writing a third piece about the role of spirituality and personality development. “At 73, I’m still going pretty strong,” he adds.

Education is a cycle that affects the lives of every individual in a community. It’s a system that can be strengthened by relationships and two-way communication. Brian Elizardi, Morgridge College of Education’s Director of Alumni, Career and Community Services and Higher Education alum, is doing just that – establishing an interrelated and interconnected system of students, community organizations, and alumni at Morgridge College of Education to bring the MCE experience full circle.

As part of every academic program at Morgridge College of Education, InContext experiences are required – in the form of an internship, apprenticeship, or practicum at a clinic, school or organization. “When I went through the program, they told me that I needed an internship, gave a few examples of what other students have done, and said ‘good luck’,” recalls Elizardi. “Now, we are focused on helping to create more opportunities through new partnerships and strengthening our current community partners to ensure our students get the valuable experience they need to augment their in class learning.”

Elizardi Blog (2)InContext opportunities are mutually beneficial; they give students a real world application of their classroom learning, while giving community partners the benefit of working with talented, young professionals with fresh eyes and fresh minds. Elizardi elaborates, “We are establishing long-term relationships with community partners around the Denver Metro area that benefit our students and the organization. A goal of the college is to produce agents of change; so we look for partners that put our students in diverse situations that encourage growth.”

In addition to ramping up community partner relationships and InContext opportunities, Elizardi is helping develop a support system for MCE students and alumni to navigate through their careers and challenging experiences via workshops, career services, professional development, and 1:1 coaching. Elizardi explains, “Professional development services are often very broad. How you manage your career in education is very different than business or law. We want to provide ongoing value to our alumni and community partners in ways that work for them and to support their ongoing needs as educators, administrators, librarians, counselors, and researchers.”

MCE alumni also play a key role in helping the system run full circle. Brian states, “Once you graduate, you enter a new season with DU. Our alumni are valued partners in the MCE network; they can be some of best community partners – offering to supervise an intern, mentor a student, or connect MCE with their district or organization – giving back to the college in a way that benefits current and future students.”

Looking at the greater scheme of things, Elizardi notes, “The mutual relationships and networks that we are strengthening today, will continue to move and change our Denver communities for years to come. It’s a great time to be engaged in education. The world needs problem solvers.”

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