Texas Tech University

Aspiring teachers embark on year of learning, serving in Boston classrooms

Robert Stein

December 9, 2020

Through a partnership between the Texas Tech College of Education and AmeriCorps’ City Year Boston, three future teachers have spent the past year serving in under-resourced schools.

Jamie Gresham's goal after graduation is to work as a teacher in under-resourced schools, where she said caring and patient educators are needed most.

TTU Students in Boston
Texas Tech students (from left to right), Jamie Gresham, Libby Wirebaugh and Matthew McCumber, arrived in Boston in September in order to quarantine before starting the program.

So, when the Texas Tech University junior saw an opportunity to spend a full year immersed as a tutor and mentor in a Boston school while working toward a bachelor's degree and teaching certification in the College of Education, she quickly signed up.

"It is an amazing opportunity for me to experience and learn how to teach in different classroom environments," said Gresham, who is now providing academic support to sophomores in English language arts classes at the English High School – the nation's first public high school – as part of City Year Boston's AmeriCorps program now available to Texas Tech students.

"Understanding each child comes from a different background and accommodating this in the classroom is very important. Through my experience with City Year, I am gaining tools I can implement in my classroom and that will allow me to teach in a way that is effective for all students."

City Year is an educational nonprofit that partners with teachers and schools to help students thrive and achieve their goals. City Year works to address inequitable access to educational opportunities by providing academic and social-emotional support to students in under-resourced schools so they can build on their strengths and fully engage in their learning.

A new partnership with Texas Tech combines City Year's unique service-learning experience with the Texas Tech College of Education's nationally recognized educator preparation program, TechTeach.

Texas Tech students spend 11 months as City Year "student success coaches" in Boston Public Schools while also completing TechTeach coursework online. Gresham and two other Texas Tech students are part of the first participating group.

"Through their work in schools and communities, the young people participating in City Year not only make a difference in the lives of students, but they also acquire the valuable skills and hands-on experience that prepare them to become the next generation of educators," said Adanma Ude, community partnerships director at City Year Boston.

Serving during the pandemic

Boston Public Schools have held the 2020-21 school year online due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the experience has still been busy and full of lessons for the Texas Tech students.

After arriving in Boston for their service year, City Year participants joined diverse teams of other AmeriCorps members from around the nation. The groups completed six weeks of training prior to the start of school, learning techniques and strategies to help students build on their strengths and cultivate social, emotional and academic skills that are important in school and life.

The City Year AmeriCorps members then took those skills and put them to work in virtual Boston classrooms while under the supervision of partner teachers. Days include supporting students in small groups, providing one-on-one help with homework and helping partner teachers plan classroom activities.

"My favorite part has definitely been working and connecting with the students," Gresham said. "Building relationships with students takes time, and you have to show them they can trust you. When connections happen, it is the best feeling. Virtual learning has been tricky for everyone involved, so seeing students still be able to be themselves and be silly and joke around has made me happy."

Matthew McCumber, a Texas Tech junior and Lubbock native also participating in City Year Boston, said he has enjoyed being immersed in Boston's culture and history and taking trips to places like the Boston Public Garden and the Paul Revere House.

"You get to be in a place that's outside of your norm, and you get to be in a place to help kids," he said. "That was really what brought me to this program."

McCumber and the other City Year participants agreed the program was intense. Participants serve in a classroom for eight hours a day, five days a week. Evenings are spent completing college homework and Texas Tech teacher education coursework online.

But, they said, City Year and Texas Tech have offered helpful support. Participants are assigned an impact manager, a full-time City Year staff member who checks in regularly and provides mentorship and guidance. Additionally, City Year Boston participants receive a bi-weekly $800 stipend and a scholarship at the end of the year.

"If you do choose to do City Year, you will be taking your Texas Tech classes online, and it's not going to be easy, but it is doable," said Libby Wirebaugh, another Texas Tech junior participating in City Year. "This has pushed me to improve my time management skills, so I am able to get everything I need to do done and still have time to explore."

Learning while teaching

Overall, the experience has been extremely rewarding, the Texas Tech City Year participants said.

"If you have ever wanted to be a part of something bigger than yourself then you should consider City Year," McCumber said. "In the short time I've been a City Year AmeriCorps member, I have learned just as much as I helped others to learn. I will take what I learned here and use it with my students I am helping now, as well as the students I will be teaching in the future."

City Year Boston
After arriving in Boston for their service year, City Year participants joined diverse teams of other AmeriCorps members from around the nation. | Photo provided by City Year

Texas Tech is accepting applications for its second class of City Year participants. More information is available on the College of Education website.

"City Year gives aspiring educators an opportunity to develop teaching skills in a unique environment," said Dawn Burke, an instructor and the service learning coordinator in the College of Education. "It's a way to experience teaching to students with diverse backgrounds, cultures and learning styles. We hope to see many more Texas Tech students take advantage of this opportunity in the future."