Teacher Trainees at Black University To Move Into
Public-Housing Project By Ann Bradley
Aspiring teachers enrolled in Clark Atlanta University soon will have the opportunity to learn about their future students first hand--by moving into public-housing projects across the street from the Atlanta institution.
Under a program developed by the historically black university and the Atlanta Housing Authority, students enrolled in the university's education and social-work programs will begin moving into their new neighborhood in May.
They will bring with them positive attitudes toward education and work to which many residents are never exposed, said housing-authority officials.
And from the project residents, university administrators said, both undergraduate and graduate students will learn how to serve children and families with overwhelming needs.
"As a person who grew up in a housing project himself, I have a special affinity for this program," said Melvin Webb, dean of Clark Atlanta's school of education. "We're determined it's going to work here.''
Although encouraging students to move into public housing might be regarded as a bold move, university officials said the concept is an extension of a philosophy the 3,500-student university long has espoused.
Since 1978, for example, Clark Atlanta has offered a Saturday mathematics- and science-enrichment program that will form the core of its educational offerings in the John Hope and University Homes projects.
A special version of the Saturday Science Academy will be designed for children who live in the projects, the dean said. The activities also will be supplemented with programs offered during the week, such as after-school tutoring and study sessions.
In addition, the children will have access to a new computer laboratory at the university that is being used to prepare teachers.
About 40 university students are expected to live in the projects. All must meet existing guidelines to qualify for apartments, according to Bettye A. Davis, director of resident services for the housing authority.
They will be accompanied by Lou Beasley, dean of the school of social work and a driving force behind the program's establishment.
Because many of the graduate students are single parents who have scraped together loans to attend school, Ms. Davis said, officials expect few problems in qualifying students for housing.
Mr. Webb said he did not yet know how many of his students will live in the projects. But even students who do not will be deeply involved with the programs offered there, he said.
The work that the Clark Atlanta students do with the children and their families will satisfy the field-experience or practicum requirements associated with both teaching and social work.
Education majors still will be required to complete more traditional student-teaching assignments in local public schools.
For example, Mr. Webb requires the students in his science-methodology course to participate in the Saturday Academy enrichment program. In addition to hands-on instruction in mathematics and science, children are exposed to computers, encouraged to write and paint, and develop their own skits about science topics that they present to parents and friends.
Through the housing-project programs, he said, "we will be able to give more students what we have come to realize are very valuable training experiences in their efforts to become first-rate teachers."
Both Mr. Webb and Ms. Davis noted that the concept of meshing the university with the projects marks a return to the original purpose of the projects, which were the first federally funded public housing built for blacks.
When the apartments were built in 1937, they were occupied by people who worked at the university. But as those instructors, graduate students, and maintenance employees moved on to better jobs and left the projects, the area deteriorated and became marked by crime and drugs.
The units have recently been renovated, however, and police have stepped up their patrols of the neighborhood.
But Ms. Davis said the housing authority also hopes that the program itself will help cut down on crime by reinvigorating the community. The problems plaguing such areas, she noted, are far too great for housing authorities to solve alone.
"When people get involved and active, certain things are not going to go on in that neighborhood," she said. "Through community involvement we cut down on crime in the neighborhood."
Graduate students in social work, for example, can assist residents in designing plans to complete their high-school-equivalency diplomas and get started on a path out of the projects, Ms. Davis said. She also hopes that the students, many of whom are parents, will become friends with residents and baby-sit for one another's children.
While assisting the housing authority to provide services and role models for its residents, the university also is meeting its own need for student housing, Ms. Davis noted.
But Mr. Webb said university officials were acutely aware that the program not be seen as taking advantage of the project residents. He is committed, he said, to making the program more than just a three- to five-year effort that ends with the university "pulling out" of the initiative.
The university intends to solicit support from businesses and foundations for the program, he said.
"This represents in a real sense a commitment on the part of the university to provide services to the community," he added.