Yale Program Aids New Haven School System

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Elisabet O. Orville will spend six weeks this school year teaching her 10th-grade biology students how to write.

Linda J. Maynard will contrast today's and yesterday's China for her 9th-grade world civilization class.

And the inner city 8th-graders in Joseph A. Montagna's social-studies class will be studying England's Industrial Revolution.

What these New Haven, Conn., teachers have in common is that they will be using lesson plans they developed this year while participating in an innovative program that brings Yale University faculty members together with New Haven middle- and high-school teachers in five-month projects intended to improve the quality of teaching in the New Haven schools.

The Yale-New Haven Teacher Institute, co-sponsored by Yale and the New Haven School District, has been designed to provide New Haven teachers the benefits of Yale's academic resources and produce fresh material for the New Haven schools' curriculum. Now in its fifth year, the institute wins high marks from most of those involved.

"It is the main reason I've stayed in teaching and stayed in New Haven," says Ms. Maynard, a history teacher at the Hamden Cooperative High School and a 12-year veteran of the New Haven schools. "Professionally I have grown tremendously as a result of participating in the institute," she adds.

"It is a delight to be involved with," says Robin W. Winks, professor of history and master of Berkeley College at Yale.

In the first four years of the institute, 140 teachers have worked with some 20 Yale faculty members to produce teaching materials on topics ranging from adolescent male sexuality to computer mathematics.

The institute, which is based on a much more modest school-campus relationship begun in 1970 by the history department at Yale with only a few New Haven history teachers and Yale professors, has attracted broad financial support. Its $250,000 annual budget comprises grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Connecticut Humanities Council, and several foundations, as well as money from Yale and the New Haven school system.

The teachers who participate in the institute argue that it is successful primarily because it is run for and by teachers.

"It is our conviction that any effort to improve teaching must be 'teacher-centered', and so we depend on teachers to make many of the most essential decisions," says James R. Vivian, director of the institute. "The New Haven teachers are, in effect, deciding the subject matter and faculty for the program."

Schools Are Canvassed

The program works this way. Each fall, one teacher, called a coordinator, in each of New Haven's 12 middle and high schools canvasses all humanities and science teachers in the school in order to determine what topics they would be like to study under the guidance of a Yale faculty member in the summer.

The coordinators--who are paid a nominal stipend of $600 a year by the institute--meet to sort the requests into as many as eight seminar topics; then they approach Yale faculty members to lead the groups.

Formal applications that include details of the teaching material the teacher will produce are then reviewed by the New Haven schools' curriculum advisers to ensure they meet the school system's teaching goals. According to Mr. Vivian, virtually all the applicants are accepted.

The institute begins in March with a series of general talks and workshops conducted by faculty members. Between early Mayand the end of July the New Haven teachers, called fellows, and the Yale faculty members meet weekly in seminars--groups of 10-12 teachers and one scholar--and individually, to discuss the progress of the teachers' work. Work must be completed by July 31. The teaching material is then distributed by the institute throughout the New Haven school system.

Each teacher who participates in the institute must teach the unit he develops during the following school year. According to Mr. Vivian, approximately 95 percent of the 80 teachers involved this year completed the program.

For their efforts, fellows receive an institute stipend of $500--too small, some say, to allow many financially pressed teachers to participate in the program. However, participants are also allowed to petition for credits toward graduate degrees. And Yale adds such largely symbolic "pie-sweeteners" as a Yale identification card and a listing in the faculty directory.

The institute has so far reached approximately one-third of the some 400 "eligible" New Haven humanities and science teachers. And last year for the first time several teachers from elsewhere in Connecticut were invited into the program.

The teachers say they relish the chance to create their own curricula. "You never get a textbook that fits the particular needs of your school," says Mr. Montagna. "With the institute, you get to create your own material. And you know who you are writing for."

Many of the lesson plans developed are designed specifically for the large populations of minority and remedial students in New Haven's urban schools. Eighty percent of the middle- and secondary-school students in New Haven are either black or Hispanic; 65 percent are performing below national averages on standardized tests.

A recent institute survey conducted to determine its impact shows that of the 142 curriculum "units" written between 1978 and 1980, almost all are being taught; they are used in 700 classes attended by some 30,000 students. Since there are about 9,000 students in grades 7-12, the survey concludes, each student is studying three units developed at the institute.

Says New Haven Superintendent Gerald N. Tirozzi of the curriculum units: "They are among the finest I've ever seen."

Better than Graduate School

Several former fellows say that by allowing teachers to select subject matter, the institute seminars are far better than traditional graduate courses. "It's really practical," says Ms. Orville. "It is not something you do just for credit, because you have to. It is something you know you are going to use."

Good faith and strong commitment on the part of both the Yale faculty and the New Haven teachers is another reason for the institute's success, observers note.

"When the program began many New Haven teachers were skeptical. Yale was, and still is by some, looked on as special, elitist, and unconcerned with the city," says Mr. Gorman. "But, in fact, we have had a very good reception from the Yale faculty. The top people at the university are in the program, not just graduate students. The institute has been a good way of taking down stereotypes."

"Surprisingly, there is a real sense of collegiality," adds Ms. Maynard. "They've (the Yale faculty) come out of their ivory towers." Says Mr. Vivian: "It's a two-way relationship. The work that emerges reflects the scholarly direction provided by the Yale faculty, but pedagogically, it reflects the experience gained by each teacher in the classroom."

The effect of the institute on what many education officials consider to be a damaging school-campus rift is reflected in a comment by Joseph W. Gordon, an assistant professor of English who this summer led a seminar on "Writing Across the Curriculum."

"I've lived next to a public school in New Haven for 11 years," he says, "but never stepped inside of it. One of the teachers in my seminar this summer teaches there and invited me over for a visit. Now I know the reality he has to cope with."

However, when teachers are critical of the institute, and that is not often, the reason is usually condescending Yale seminar leaders.

More recently, New Haven business leaders have taken an interest in the institute. Says Robert S. Reigeluth, chairman of the New Haven Development Commission, which has persuaded 35 local corporations to donate $20,000 to the institute over the last four months: "The quality of the public school system is critical to attracting new business development. The teachers institute looms large in this context."

But from the teachers' point of view, one of the best things about the institute is simply the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with their colleagues. Says Mr. Montagna: "Being in the institute gives you a chance to talk professional to professional about something more than Johnny's problems."

Vol. 01, Issue 02, Pages 1, 18

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