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UW-Eau Claire Education Students Benefit from 'Urban Experience Day'

RELEASED: Dec. 2, 2008

EAU CLAIRE — Some 60 students in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire take part in an "Urban Experience Day" field trip to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area each semester.

Dr. Deb Pattee
Dr. Deb Pattee

Many education students come from small towns in Wisconsin and Minnesota where populations tend to be racially and ethnically homogeneous, said Dr. Deb Pattee, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction. One way Pattee helps prepare these students to teach in more diverse, urban environments is by including the "Urban Experience Day" in her middle level methods class. She has offered the field experience since she joined the faculty in 2004.

In the past, Pattee has taken her students as far as Milwaukee and Madison to experience a more diverse school environment. Partnerships with Washington Technology Magnet Middle School in St. Paul and Richfield Middle School in Richfield, Minn., have made it easier to accomplish the field experience in a single day, Pattee said.

The Richfield Middle School student population is about 37 percent white, 29 percent Latino, 26 percent African American and 8 percent Asian. At Washington, the population is approximately 54 percent Asian, 27 percent African American, 9 percent white, 8 percent Latino and 2 percent American Indian.

When visiting the schools, the students focus half their attention on what they've learned about the components that make a true middle school — curriculum integration, interdisciplinary teaming, school climate, school organization, students support and learner-centered teaching — and then observe and document how these schools carry out those mandates.

But students also observe and address questions to teachers and students about school culture and classroom environment, and student/teacher and student/student interactions, paying particular attention to how the various ethnic groups relate to one another and express themselves. Some students shadow teachers and some shadow students throughout the day.

For some students, this experience is life changing, Pattee said.

The trip was beneficial and opened her eyes in a couple of ways, said senior Emily Madson, a biology major from Birchwood who visited Richfield Middle School. While most of the students in the school spoke English, several students in each class spoke Spanish, she said, noting that ESL teachers were present to help those students.

"After leaving the school, I realized that I would love to work in a middle school with that much variation in culture," Madson said. "I thought teaching at a school like that would be extremely difficult, but I came to realize it is just like any other school, and the teachers there were wonderful with their students."

Adam Coolidge, Eau Claire, who is seeking teacher certification after earning a bachelor's degree in mathematics from UW-Eau Claire in 2004, agreed the trip was beneficial.

"This experience gave us the opportunity to see and interact with a very diverse student population and to observe the teaching styles and classroom management techniques of some very talented and experienced middle-level teachers," Coolidge said, noting he hoped the class would continue to be offered.

Senior Heather Rosemann, an English major from Woodbury, Minn., who also visited Richfield, noted that although the students tended to congregate by ethnic group at lunch time, it was different in the classroom.

"In the classroom I observed all the students working together regardless of their ethnic background," said Rosemann. "This was the case in each class I observed; students would work together with their desk partner or turn around and ask questions of other students, no matter who they were. It was good for me to observe a middle school that had such a range in culture, ability and background."

For more details on "Urban Experience Day," contact Pattee at 715-836-5269 or patteedk@uwec.edu.

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NW

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