Most Adventist elementary schools have one or two educators teaching students in multigrade classrooms. But despite the prevalence of smaller schools, it can be hard to find training arenas that recreate that reality. That can leave new teachers frustrated, disillusioned and unprepared to start their careers.
To address this problem, Union College opened George P. Stone Elementary School on the college campus in fall 1976 to serve as a multigrade teaching laboratory. The unique setting helps education majors experience possibilities and grow their teaching skills in less traditional classrooms.
The K-8 school is split into two classrooms—lower and upper grades—and has limited enrollment to ensure a low student-to-teacher ratio. Education majors have constant access to the classrooms to observe the unique setting, and they get hands-on experience working with students in an environment similar to what they’re likely to find within the Adventist education system. Personalized student growth plans, student-led learning and a strong moral framework also give education majors experience with a nontraditional way of teaching, which can help them develop their abilities and decide what shape their future classrooms will take.
Small classrooms reinforce a calling
Eillet Perkins ’17 discovered her calling while student teaching at George Stone School. “It taught me how to be flexible,” she says. “Before teaching there, I’d spent time in traditional classrooms—it was me teaching in front of 20 or so kids. I wasn’t that comfortable teaching one-on-one or in small groups of students. But my time at George Stone gave me that exposure; it helped me become more familiar with each age group and figure out which grades I am most comfortable teaching.”
In fact, Perkins had gone into her student teaching experience planning to teach kindergarten or first grade, but she found she enjoyed working with fourth graders. “It was a surprise to me,” she says. “I wouldn’t have learned that in a traditional classroom; George Stone made it easier to compare my options.”
Perkins, who has always wanted to be a teacher, says her student teaching experience reinforced that goal. She currently teaches fifth grade at Meadow Lane Elementary in Lincoln, but she hasn’t ruled out working with younger students in the future. “That exposure at George Stone gave me the confidence to know I could teach any elementary grade,” she says. “It gave me a different perspective and helped me grow as a person and as a teacher.”
Exposing more options through unique learning experiences
Education majors like Perkins discovered that different perspective through the unique learning experiences at Union College. Meagan Lozano ’10, teaches in the Lincoln Public School system and is an adjunct professor at Union. As a college student, she taught two practicum rotations in George Stone School; now she watches her own students embark on teaching experiences.
Lozano says that Union students benefit from access to nontraditional classrooms like those at George Stone School. “Any multigrade classroom has aspects that larger schools don’t, and vice versa. It’s good for future teachers to experience different models, and it’s important that education majors be exposed to various options,” she says. “Any time they’re in a teaching environment, they learn something about what they will want to do or not do as teachers. It gives them a chance to look within themselves and see if it’s a good fit for them.”
That was true for elementary education major Vanessa Aguilar ’17. “Union gave me the chance to spend time in the public school system, a larger Adventist school like College View Academy, and the small multigrade classrooms at George Stone,” she says. “I learned that every classroom is different, and it helped me want to stay open to my options.”
Having opportunities to observe and practice teaching in a variety of classrooms helped Aguilar refine her plans to teach in the Adventist system after she graduates. She says her time in the grades 5-8 classroom at George Stone School was especially helpful in solidifying that decision. “I absolutely loved that it was a small class,” she says.” I was able to dive in with all of my ideas and teach without worrying about students acting out. I saw how procedures can help kids know what to expect, and it gave me ideas for my own classroom.”
Aguilar credits her renewed confidence to the unique teaching environment Union provided through access to George Stone School. “The school felt like a family, and the teachers have a chance to know the students—we had time to really listen to them.” She adds, “I might not have had the experience of learning to value one-on-one time with students, really getting to know them and teach them as individuals, if not for my time at George Stone.”