Rob Higgins and James Eiben both were looking for unique student teaching opportunities in urban schools while also allowing them to make a difference in the lives of children who really needed it. The Master in Urban Secondary Teaching students at Cleveland State University, found the perfect opportunity thanks to a partnership between CSU and Safely Home, a residential treatment and education center in Bedford, Ohio focused on supporting children with histories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.
Higgins and Eiben were placed with Safely Home’s on-site charter school where they served as teaching assistants and tutors working with boys ranging in age from 6 to 18. They assisted in developing lesson plans, teaching classes and leading group projects, including science experiments and the production of graphic novels and comic strips. Both also developed significant understanding of how to meet the unique needs of the population which often entailed emotional support, counseling and mentoring on top of standard educational practice.
“Working at Safely Home was an incredibly challenging but very rewarding experience,” Higgins says. “The children we were working with come from incredibly difficult backgrounds. In that environment you have to really focus on how you are engaging students and providing opportunities and reasons for them to become more involved in their education. It has made me a much better teacher.”
Safely Home was founded over 20 years ago with the mission of supporting children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and from other school districts due to behavioral problems. The facility provides residential housing and emotional and psychological treatment along with educational instruction to support continued development. The institution began its partnership with CSU in 2015 and will host a new batch of student teachers in 2017.
“We provide support and assistance for children who have fallen through the cracks in the system, and work to insure that every child has access to a safe home and a good school,” notes Stephanie DiPaola, coordinator for the Safely Home School. “The student teachers from CSU have been an incredibly important and positive addition to our classroom, bringing much needed support to our staff while really connecting with our students.”
“The mission of Safely Home clearly aligns well with the commitment to social justice that is the foundation of the MUST program,” adds Diane Corrigan, associate professor of education and director of the MUST program at CSU. “Through their work with Safely Home, the MUST interns have developed a greater understanding of the skills needed in their future role as caring, successful urban teachers.”
Following graduation Higgins hopes to teach high school social studies, while Eiben would like to teach English at the high school level. Both argue that the skills and experiences they received at Safely Home will greatly assist them in meeting the needs of their future students.
“Teaching is as much about relating to personalities as it is about providing correct instruction,” Eiben adds. “Safely Home was really a perfect place to learn how to develop a rapport with students and create real connections. It is definitely an experience that will inform the rest of my career.”