By Nicole Mitchell
Lawrence’s education department has undergone several large changes this year. First, Associate Professor of Education Robert Williams is currently serving as Associate Dean of the Faculty and will be less involved in the department as a result of his new responsibilities. In his place is Assistant Professor of Education Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd, whose background is in philosophy and early childhood education. The 2015-2016 academic year will be her first at Lawrence.
Burdick-Shepherd’s appointment is timely, given her focus on early childhood, as another change in the department this year is the expansion of the teacher certification program to include early elementary education. The expansion, which Burdick-Shepherd calls a “long-time dream” of the department, is made possible by a grant from the Mielke Family Foundation. The introduction of this program “highlights the importance that Lawrence…places on interacting with its community and seeing the needs of its community. Elementary school teachers who are very qualified and have the ability to take on the complexity of elementary teaching are really needed in our area,” Burdick-Shepherd said.
Burdick-Shepherd’s belief that Lawrence students can become those teachers is echoed by Bee Connell Mielke Professor of Education and Associate Professor of Education Stewart Purkey. Purkey believes “study of the liberal arts provides…the groundwork to develop the knowledge and skills of teaching as well as the ability to make connections from this knowledge to the intricate and challenging art that is elementary teaching.”
The new certification opportunity will involve what the education department’s webpage describes as a “post baccalaureate, yearlong apprenticeship.” Lawrence students pursuing early elementary certification will return to Appleton for the school year following their graduation, during which they will student-teach and have the opportunity to take courses and seminars from master veteran teachers. The duration of student-teaching sets this program apart from Lawrence’s other teacher certification programs, where candidates student teach for a semester rather than a full year. Though specific schools have not been selected as student-teaching sites, Burdick-Shepherd says that the department is currently working to “solidify partnerships” with several sites in the Appleton Area School District.
Since early elementary certification requires no discipline specialization, the program will be open to students of all majors in both the college and the conservatory; and as the two new courses required for early elementary certification will be offered this winter and spring, interested juniors and seniors could potentially be prepared to student-teach when the program has its first cohort next fall. Burdick-Shepherd encourages “any Lawrence student considering working with children in any capacity“ to consider the program, as “an early elementary certification is a really powerful door-opener in our society.”