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May 2009  |  Return to issue home

Four Rising Stars: a New Cadre of Teachers

Muang Thin Saetern, left, Vicky Chen, Shannon Black and Treneicia Michelle Gardner
From left: Muang Thin Saetern (April), Vicky Chen, Shannon Black and Treneicia Michelle Gardner

On a drizzly winter day, four recent UW undergraduate transfers munched on pupusas and talked about their planned journey from Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) to the UW.

The pipeline, a joint program between SCCC and UW, transfers SCCC students into UW as upperclass undergraduates and streams them into the College of Education’s Master in Education teaching program. The goal is to provide bright youth with the necessary support and resources for long-term careers as teachers. This supported pathway effort is a part of the College of Education’s recruitment efforts to truly represent the Seattle community.

This year, UW welcomes four Seattle Central transfer students into our fold. Muang Thin Saetern, who prefers to be called April, bounced in first. Originally from Thailand, Saetern considers herself of Iu-Mienh ethnicity and is planning to major in English with an endorsement in history and a minor in education.

“I enjoy UW,” Saetern says. “It’s bigger than Seattle Central and I love my professors. My favorite class is dance, which I’d never done before.”

Saetern plans to eventually become a secondary teacher through the UW teacher education program, where she will learn how to manage the complicated issues and to celebrate the successes of secondary education. The other three students, Treneicia Michelle Gardner, Vicky Chen, and Shannon Black, plan to become elementary school teachers.

As the smell of salsa verde fills the room, the students discussed their shared past and the mentors who helped them enter UW through the pipeline. Lisa Saunders, a staffer at Seattle Central, and Wanda Brown, who previously taught at Seattle Central and was the director of P-12 Engagement for Teachers for a New Era, were both hailed as touchstones and inspirations for these young ladies. And all attribute their success at UW to preparation from Seattle Central and a defined pathway through the academic system.

“My path was set out for me to get to UW,” Saetern asserts. “Academically, Seattle Central was a good head start and now UW has a lot of connections—I can go from this person to that person to get what I need.”  

Adds Chen, “Seattle Central had smaller classes which built my confidence. Due to my experiences volunteering at a school, I found it rewarding and it actually gave me reasons for why I want to be an educator.”

The pipeline was birthed from the Teachers for a New Era Program, a Carnegie Foundation grant that enables 11 universities, of which UW is one, to start and fund new programs and projects that will help better prepare excellent teachers. The University of Washington began a close partnership with SCCC as a result of the grant, intended to help support local, underrepresented transfer students through the process of becoming a teacher.

All of the students are obtaining field experience, which is required for entry into the Teacher Education Program. This, in combination with coursework to prepare themselves for the master in teaching program, is preparing them to be successful, happy teachers.

Shannon Black—who worked at a secondary school while in Jamaica and is now working in a second grade Seattle classroom—will be going to South Africa to teach this coming year.  And Saetern tutors first through sixth grade students at a private school, though she looks forward to working with middle school public students at her next job.

“I feel that middle school kids need more attention,” she says, “and that is where my passion comes from.”

Class size seems to be one of the few stumbling blocks for these ladies, who enjoyed small class sizes at Seattle Central and are now experiencing larger courses, such as a 300-person lecture for Gardner, an early childhood and family studies major.

“I learned to cope in my 300-person nutrition class,” she says, laughing. “It was intimidating on the first day but I rolled with it.”

Gardner is certainly an example of strength, both in her pursuit of academic success and in her personal history. Originally from New Orleans, Gardner moved to Seattle when Hurricane Katrina left her family homeless and migratory. Yet she says that after a lifetime of knowing that she would eventually become a teacher, it is a comfort to know that early childhood is her individual niche.

“I feel like the pre-K level is the building block on which all future educational success is mounted,” Gardner says. “Not enough planning goes into the pre-K curriculum, making it harder for children with less parental involvement to do well throughout their schooling. If we recognize exceptional learners as well as children with learning disabilities earlier, it may shape the way they are taught throughout their school career, enabling them to have more options later in life.”

Meanwhile, Black, a major in the comparative history of ideas with an education minor, has the travelling bug. “I was just accepted to study abroad in South Africa,” she beams. “And I hope to do a national abroad experience in Hawaii, looking at the ways that education has been influenced by the history of both locations. …There are so many opportunities [at UW] that I’ve decided to spend more time doing research.”

From Jenee Myers and Erasmo Gamboa, who are available to advise and mentor the Seattle Central pipeline students, to the College of Education staffers, who will be working with these students more closely once they enter the teacher education program, UW wants to make sure that these students are presented with opportunities for growth and learning.

Vicki Chen, who intends to double-major in English and Communications, raves about her professional development class, from which she’d just arrived. Smartly dressed for a practice interview, she says, “This class prepares us professionally with practice with cover letters, resumes, and how to be prepared in any situation.”

It seems that they are preparing their peers as well. Myers, who teaches the Education, Learning, and Society colloquium, a course that is part of the education minor, raves about these bright students.

“In their courses at UW, especially the colloquium,” she says, “they bring a different perspective to the classroom conversation because of their experiences in higher education as transfer students. They come with a deep commitment to diversity and educational access as the first in their families to attend college.”

Learn more about the pipeline.

May 2009  |  Return to issue home

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