Checking in with 3toPhD®: College of Education students share their thoughts
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Concordia University-Portland’s main website.
Expectations were high as the eagerly awaited 3toPhD® facility opened its doors this past August. After years of planning, the innovative new educational model had the eyes – and hopes – of a whole community resting on it. So, how is it going? Who better to ask than our own College of Education (COE) students – education majors who have gotten to know 3toPhD® firsthand and witness the program’s effects on a daily basis.
Learning, teaching, observing, and role-modeling: the sophomore experience
Although farther from home than she’s ever been, Chase Stephens, a sophomore from Palmer, Alaska, feels like she’s in just the right place – and in the right program. While she enjoyed her freshman year in the COE, this year is even better. “It’s so great being housed with Faubion in the 3toPhD® building,” she says. “I love that I learn about a topic in my college classroom and then can immediately apply it in a real classroom that’s just down the hall.”
Pomaikai (Pomai) Richardson is another sophomore COE student who came to Concordia from a distance – Hawaii, to be exact. She loves being involved with 3toPhD® and, in fact, the strong partnership between Concordia and Faubion was one of the reasons she picked Concordia. Though she knew she wanted to be involved in education, Pomai just wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in. Having a particularly passionate teacher freshman year – Concordia’s Logan Walton – helped Pomai decide for sure that she wanted to teach.
Last year, when Faubion was housed further away at Harriet Tubman School (Faubion’s temporary home while their new school was being built), Pomai barely got to spend time there, as the building was several miles away. “The distance really did make a difference.” Now, being enmeshed with the Faubion kids, the experience she’s having is very different – and very authentic. “It becomes real and is no longer theoretical. It’s loud and it’s noisy. It’s a reality check. It is by no means a perfect situation – there are fire drills, there are lockdowns. It’s all such a learning experience.”
Chase’s favorite part of the program is being in the classroom. For her classroom assignments, Chase is interested in the younger end of the early education spectrum. Right now she’s with a third-grade class twice a week. There are generally two to three COE students in class with the Faubion kids during the assigned time slots. “I can see that working consistently with the same kids for a full semester really helps them progress,” Chase says. With each new semester, Concordia students change Faubion classrooms “and that’s helpful because it gives us hands-on experience with many different kids and many different grades,” Chase explains. Pomai also appreciates how the classroom rotations have deepened her experience this year, “Being able to work with all types of students – Talented And Gifted (TAG), special education, English-language learning – has been amazing.”
More in-class time, more responsibilities: the junior experience
A third-year COE student from Umatilla in eastern Oregon, junior Megan Lorence, has long known that she wanted to be a teacher. In fact, she has been teaching in some capacity since high school. She felt that Concordia’s education program would be a good fit for her, and she was right. From the first moment she stepped on campus, she immediately felt like she belonged.
Like Chase, Megan is in the elementary school program and is most interested in teaching the younger grades of the early education spectrum. Currently working in a Faubion kindergarten class 12 hours a week, she finds that she really likes the “lightbulb moments” of kindergarten and enjoys introducing them to school.
Megan loves the convenience of having the 3toPhD® building on campus. “It’s been great to put in so many hours in Faubion classrooms without worrying about how to get there. It’s working well. I think Concordia’s long relationship with Faubion has helped to make the transition smooth and positive.” Now she learns theories and practices in her own classroom and then can immediately see them being modeled in the classrooms around her. “I learn so much by being able to get into the classroom and immediately apply what I’ve learned in class. I wouldn’t be the educator I am becoming today if it weren’t for these in-class experiences that I am able to have.”
Now a junior, Kimberly McCaffrey transferred to Concordia last year because she’d heard about all the clinical teaching experience available through 3toPhD®. But she knew for sure that she’d chosen the right program when she took Concordia professor Carrie Kondor’s course, which celebrated the joys of teaching while providing the students with effective in-class strategies.
From the moment she got to Concordia, Kimberly was able to jump right into her field experience and immediately see what teaching is all about. “I learn experientially, so this was invaluable,” Kimberly says. “Kids came in with a lot of needs; some had experienced trauma. But I still felt inspired and equipped to teach them. And I also felt strongly that what I was doing would change lives and make an impact.”
As happy as Kimberly was with the COE program last year, she feels it’s even better now that they are in the new 3toPhD® building. Focused on students in third grade and younger, Kimberly has been in kindergarten and first-grade classes so far this year. Aside from her assigned classroom teaching, Kimberly also has been able to create other volunteering opportunities for herself within Faubion, “which means I’m able to spend even more time in classrooms with the students. Which I love!”
A legacy of educators
The program runs very smoothly because there is a great deal of communication between the College of Education professors and the Faubion teachers to ensure that everyone is aligned with how and what the Concordia student-teachers are doing in the Faubion classrooms.
All four COE students have found the Faubion classroom teachers to be “very flexible, very adaptable, and really easy to work with.” Chase describes her classroom teacher as “a big guiding force.” It’s helpful that many of the Faubion teachers are themselves Concordia graduates, so they’re familiar with the curriculum and can “act like professors,” reinforcing the lessons and talking them through the process of clinical experience. Kimberly says, “They all know the system, so we feel supported, all the way up the chain. Even (Faubion) Principal Jen McCauley pops her head in from time to time.”
Pomai, who is most interested in grades four through six, has been working with Faubion teacher Pua Chee’s sixth-grade class. A Concordia graduate who is also Hawaiian, Pua is Pomai’s teacher inspiration. “She is always so accommodating and willing to help. She balances the classroom perfectly and is always happy to include us (the COE students) in everything that she’s doing, while also carefully explaining what all goes into it,” Pomai says. “I love being in her class!”
Megan appreciates that the Faubion teachers are committed to doing whatever they can to empower the Concordia students to become teachers. The classroom teachers get the student-teachers hands-on with the (Faubion) students right away. In Kimberly’s experience, “Every classroom teacher asks ‘What do you want out of this experience?’ and then does their best to get us (the teaching candidates) involved. I have never felt like a volunteer. They treat you like an educator from day one.”
Maximizing the amazing facilities
The 3toPhD® program was designed to build not just an educated community but also a safer and healthier one. As one of the largest and most diverse public schools in the district, Faubion is a federally designated Title I school, with 81% of students on free or reduced-cost lunch. And because of the student population, a Kaiser Permanente Wellness Center, food pantry, and an early childhood education center were incorporated into the 3toPhD® facility from the very beginning.
Kimberly has been surprised and happy to see how quickly the community jumped into using the nutrition and wellness resources offered through 3toPhD®. She has never had to educate them about what’s offered. “They know what’s available. It’s been well communicated, and the services are being used and appreciated. I know many Faubion families that are also using the health facilities.”
The families are also taking advantage of the food resources available on site, and Kimberly takes students to the cafeteria throughout the day. “Even the kindergartners know that there is a food resource here for them, that they can get food throughout the day and they won’t go hungry. And they know just where to pick up their donated food bags.”
Megan knows a lot of people – Faubion students and families – that regularly use the Kaiser Wellness Center facilities and the food pantry. “They love having it in one central place!” And Megan’s friends in the nursing program enjoy having their clinic hours so close by. Pomai reports that Concordia students hear about Kaiser on a daily basis. “They know you can just walk over and get a check-up, get a cut taken care of, that sort of thing. The Basics store is also great —and really handy.”
Taking 3toPhD® out into the world
Nearing the end of the first year of 3toPhD®, each COE student has nothing but praise for the new education model, for Concordia’s hands-on education program and, most especially, for their “amazing” Concordia professors. A few of the names mentioned repeatedly were Julie Owens-Birch, Julianna Smith, and Angela Vossenkuhl for giving them the practical, tactical, and emotional tools to successfully become the next generation of educators.
Chase appreciates the perspective she has gained from the program. “My professors have already taught me so much, including the importance of knowing ‘where my students are at.’ Are they hungry? Are they tired? This type of information is useful to a teacher because it affects the students’ performance.” These are lessons she will take with her into the workforce, whether here or in Alaska. “When you graduate from here, you have all the pieces you need to be ready for your first job. You are very well-prepared.”
Pomai would eventually like to go back to Hawaii to teach and share her perspective and learnings. “In Hawaii, it’s so common to be mixed race. There’s such a different culture there. I led a fairly sheltered life. I never had to worry about food – or even think about it. My eyes were opened here, being at Faubion. I see kids from so many different walks of life. That’s been an education in and of itself!”
Once she graduates, Kimberly would like to bring the lessons, values, and focus she has learned from 3toPhD® back to the Gresham/Barlow school district, which is where she lives. She loves the community-focused mindset here and would like to help integrate that type of thinking into the Gresham/Barlow school district. “I really think it could have a big, positive effect there!” she says.
Though Megan is not entirely sure where she wants to teach, she will more than likely try for a Title I school. Having grown up in a poor community – one of the most impoverished areas of Oregon with 85% below the poverty line – she saw firsthand how education does offer a way out. And Megan, like the other three students, is experiencing every day just how much power education can truly have.