Students Benefit from the Education Studies Program’s Emphasis on Broad Experiences and Deep Understanding

July 27, 2015


Sometimes it’s Ellen DeGeneres, sometimes it’s a state educators association and sometimes it’s a local school system, but make no mistake: Students who go through Stonehill’s Education Studies program get noticed.

Danielle Witter works with children at the Lloyd Center for the Environment in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, where she is interning this summer before beginning her full-time post in the Medway Public Schools this fall.

Combining career-focused advising, a wealth of classroom experience and a curriculum that lets students tap into their passions, the program has long helped graduates become well-rounded educators who capture attention in the field by going well beyond the state licensure guidelines followed by other programs.

The strength of the program can be seen in the achievements of graduates such as Patricia Fry ’94, the 2015 Massachusetts Principal of the Year and a candidate for national principal of the year. And the strength of Stonehill’s culture of compassion can be seen in graduates such as Nicole Bollerman ’10, who garnered national attention — including an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show — when she donated the $150,000 she won in a teacher appreciation initiative to the urban elementary school where she teaches.

Even before they graduate, the program’s students demonstrate its strengths.

“When you student teach, people say to you, ‘You’re from Stonehill, right?’ They can tell because we have a reputation for being poised, polite and one step ahead of the rest,” says Danielle Witter ’15.

Liberal Arts Foundation Provides Valuable Level of Expertise

Education students develop a broad understanding of diverse subjects — along with problem-solving and communication skills — through Stonehill’s liberal arts curriculum, the Cornerstone Program. Although Massachusetts requires that all future licensed teachers declare a liberal arts major in addition to education, Stonehill is one institution where students take a complete course of study in the complementary major.

“Our students do a full second major — we don’t craft a general liberal arts major especially for education students,” says Kathy McNamara, assistant professor and chair of the Education Studies Department. “Choosing a discipline to study deeply further enriches the special piece of themselves they will bring to their future classrooms. It’s a huge advantage.”

Danielle Witter combined a passion for the environment and teaching by majoring in environmental studies and elementary education, matching her skill set with the increasing demand for teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. Danielle bolstered her classroom experience by interning as an environmental educator at The Lloyd Center for the Environment in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and ended up with a full-time elementary teaching position in Medway, Massachusetts — a district that emphasizes environmental friendliness. 

Student teaching taught me classroom management strategies, how to design and deliver lesson plans — and how to set and meet higher expectations for myself.
Danielle Witter ’15

Beyond the academic program, Stonehill also provides other unique opportunities for students to pursue interests, such as Camp Shriver — an inclusive summer camp held at Stonehill that helps education majors foster growth and community — and the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, funded by a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant.

Early Teaching Placements Help Students Find Their Path

Dave Barry ’07 working with students at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School In Boston

Education Studies students are advised to apply their knowledge by seeking ample real-life classroom experience from the moment they arrive at Stonehill. Students gain experience in a wide range of classrooms, from urban to suburban, public to private settings. This often requires that students step out of their comfort zones — and in the process, they may discover a surprising path forward.

“Sometimes, students aren’t interested in some of the things we ask them to try, such as a special education placement, or an urban classroom,” says McNamara. “But opening that door broadens their world, they find what they’re excited about — and off they go.” Regardless of the direction Stonehill students settle on, the range of classroom experience they’ve gained by the end of the program helps distinguish them once they land in the education job market.

“Although students are all going through the program together, we don’t want them looking the same when they come out; we want them to differentiate themselves, so they can go into a job interview and say, ‘These are the unique interests and skills I have that I will bring to your program,’” adds McNamara.

Teaching runs in the family of Dave Barry ’07 — so by the time he arrived at Stonehill, he had decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps and become a teacher. What he didn’t realize at the time was just how much Stonehill’s Education Studies program would help define and stretch his personal and professional goals.

Dave credits the job offer he received before graduation (via a welcome phone call during his final presentation of his final Stonehill class, which his professor told him to answer) to his experience as a student teacher in Brockton. “Being there prepared me to understand the unique differences and needs of the urban classroom — it made me realize that was exactly where I should be,” he says.

Today, Dave applies these lessons as a kindergarten teacher at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston, where he leads a highly diverse classroom. After three years of teaching, the Storrs, Connecticut, native received a full fellowship designated for Boston public school teachers to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he continues to pursue post-graduate research and student teaching around the issue of childhood trauma.

Seasoned, Supportive Faculty

To give students this combination of theoretical and practical knowledge, Education Studies faculty are cultivated from a wide range of professional spheres, bringing their own pre-K-12 experience as well as expertise in math, science, language, diagnostics and other areas to Stonehill’s classrooms. Once teaching at Stonehill, professors are encouraged to maintain their professional affiliations to keep their knowledge and skills relevant.

“We’re not just on campus, we’re out there in the education world,” says McNamara, who taught students with special needs before joining the Stonehill faculty. “That’s how we develop community partners and gain credibility in telling our students what happens in classrooms — we know because we’ve lived it.”

Stonehill faculty get to know each Education Studies student individually by teaching courses across the program, and they make themselves readily available by leaving their doors open — literally — as formal and informal advisors.

While student teaching, Jeanette Hogan ’15 had the personal cell phone number of her clinical supervisor — a faculty advisor overseeing the practicum experience — along with an open invitation to call whenever questions arose. “I did call her when I was feeling challenged in getting my students to engage,” says Jeanette, a Noyce Scholarship recipient. “It was really a comfort to know she was available.”

Together, these benefits of Stonehill’s Education Studies program shape confident, qualified graduates ready to tackle the most challenging teaching roles and graduate school opportunities. “We want students to find their passion and niche, and be as strong as they can be when they get into the workforce,” says McNamara. “One of our professors says that our students think they can change the world if they just try hard enough — and it’s true.”