Student teachers ‘Step Up’ to new challenge

HARLINGEN — “OK, boys and girls.”

That’s all Amanda Torres had to say. The fourth graders at Lee Means Elementary turned quickly, eyes riveted on the student teacher as she presented a lesson.

“There are four types of sentences,” said Torres, a University of Texas Rio Grande Valley student teacher. “Can you tell me what they are?”

Hands fired into the air above the children’s heads like rockets.

Torres is one of 10 student teachers at Lee Means Elementary who are part of a new innovative program called Student Teacher Educator Program-University Partnership, or STEP-UP.

They’ve all been assigned mentor teachers. Torres’ mentor Luisa Nieto, was already impressed with her.

“She is learning a lot,” Nieto said. “She’s very engaging. She has a way with the students.”

This is the first year STEP-UP has been implemented. One of its more notable features is that teachers will spend a full year as student teachers. This is in stark contrast to the usual one semester of student teaching.

Mindy Sanchez, principal at Lee Means, spoke excitedly about having the new student teachers at the school. Teachers were delighted to have the extra help. The student teachers had come to learn from them, but it would work both ways.

“There’s a lot of potential for them bringing new ideas from their university, different ideas from new teachers,” she said.

The student teachers were at the school the first day, which created a stronger connection with the students from the first day. They were back again on Friday. The number of days the student teachers will be at the school each week will vary. However, spending a whole year at the school learning how to teach will give them the chance to see how their work with the children impacts their lives.

“They get to see the final product,” Sanchez said.

The student teachers are in three types of classes: early childhood, special education and bilingual/dual language.

Melanie Rincones never thought she’d become a kindergarten teacher until recently. She spoke with great energy about her experience in the class at Lee Means.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I am really loving it. This is going to give me hands-on experience. The first day it was hectic, but it was really exciting to see the children coming with the little backpacks and smiles on their faces.”

Rincones’ mentor teacher, Estelle Decilos, said she’s very good with the children.

“She’s bringing her experience,” Decilos said. “That first day it was actually good to have an extra set of hands. It’s nice for the children to have more adults in the classroom. It’s better for me; it’s better for the children.”

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