USF Sarasota-Manatee interns help at Booker Middle School

Ja'mya Hunter, intern Patricia Casey, Asiyah Hadley and intern Victoria Barnette talk about the Emancipation Proclamation at Booker Middle School.

Ja’mya Hunter, intern Patricia Casey, Asiyah Hadley and intern Victoria Barnette talk about the Emancipation Proclamation at Booker Middle School.

SARASOTA, Fla. (July 30, 2015) – Jamaal Belvin didn’t have to think long when asked his favorite part about the Summer Arts-Integrated Literacy (SAIL) program by United Way Suncoast and USF Sarasota-Manatee.

“The portrait reading,” the 11-year-old eagerly replied.

Belvin is one of 70 students enrolled in a summer program at Booker Middle School in Sarasota to help elementary students transition to middle school. Thanks to United Way Suncoast, he is also part of the SAIL program and tutored by one of a half-dozen interns from USF Sarasota-Manatee’s teacher preparation program.

The “portrait reading” that Belvin enjoys is an element of the College of Education’s arts-integrated instruction.

As part of SAIL, interns teach the students to examine portraits of historical figures – from the image’s focal point to the subject’s facial expression and clothing — to help the students gain insights into the figures and envision life during the eras portrayed.

“I like the portrait reading because it gives me a picture in my head about the person,” Belvin said.

In addition, the interns help the students understand the root elements of words so they better comprehend information-based text.

Booker’s summer program, now in its fourth year (though the first to include the SAIL program), is critical in helping the students adjust to middle school. It also helps them retain knowledge and literacy skills from the previous year so they return to school in the fall better prepared.

Combatting summer learning loss is a significant factor to middle and high school success. U.S. Department of Education studies show that summer learning loss adds up, especially for low-income students. By 8th grade, that lost learning time accounts for two-thirds of the achievement gap between low-income children and their affluent peers.

The summer program is invaluable for a school like Booker, a Title I facility that serves predominantly low-income minority children, many of whom at risk of falling behind.

“It’s a big thing to transition to middle school,” said Kay Daniels, coordinator of Booker’s transition program, which also includes math, science and P.E. “The academics become more rigorous and there are many differences, different teachers and more students. It can be scary for them and for their parents.”

The program runs 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday and provides a free breakfast and lunch. United Way Suncoast provides the summer learning curriculum for all the students. The 40 enrolled in the SAIL program are tutored twice a week. Today is the program’s last day until next summer.

For the interns, the program offers a real-world teaching experience with students of different cultures and races. Unlike classrooms of old with desks in neat rows, the students sit in groups at tables, allowing for interaction with each other and the interns. This summer, SAIL students are studying the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Many of our teaching students are from middle-class backgrounds and they’re not exposed to teaching children from a high-poverty environment,” said Dr. Marie Byrd, who oversees the SAIL program for USFSM. “This will teach them how to interact with the children and differentiate their needs.”

Dr. G. Pat Wilson, interim dean of USFSM’s College of Education, agreed, adding: “What project SAIL does for our teacher candidates is give them additional experience with diverse children using arts-integrated teaching. Ultimately, our teacher candidates will be stronger educators from this experience.”

Graduate student Kristen Castellini said she jumped at the chance to participate in the internship: “It was an opportunity I just didn’t want to pass up; an experience before going into the classroom full time.”

“That’s what it was for me, too,” said fellow graduate student Victoria Barnette. “It was an opportunity to learn, to assess reading and to manage a classroom.”

Adjusting to the new setting was challenging at first, but they settled in after a couple of days, Barnette said. In addition to their roles as educators – in this case integrating art and reading with social studies – the interns were presented a chance to learn about public speaking, lesson planning and time management.

The most fulfilling part, Castellini said, was “watching the children’s reactions as they became engaged.”

Fellow graduate student Richard Schaefer said he enjoyed “interacting and talking about how what happened in the past is relevant today.”

Meanwhile, for the students, “portrait reading” clearly emerged as the overall top vote-getter.

“For some reason, my favorite part was critiquing the clothes,” Mia Rojas, 11, said with a grin. “They had bad clothes.”

“Reading portraits is my favorite part,” said Ja’mya Hunter, 11. “I also like talking about the book we’re reading about the Civil War and society.”

However, her classmate, Asiyah Hadley, 11, offered a different response. She said she liked portrait reading but also enjoyed learning about the abolitionist movement and how some individuals were spurred to action by the cruelty of slavery.

“I thought the Civil War was about some states that wanted slavery and some that didn’t,” she said. “But (really) it was about how slaves were being treated and that some people (abolitionists) didn’t like it. That’s how it started. I didn’t know that before.”