Striving for student success
Sanethette Shubert, ‘04, has come full circle. The Jacksonville native attended Duval County Public Schools, went on to receive her education degree from the University of North Florida, and then returned to teach in the district where she was educated. To Shubert, the knowledge she gained to help students reach their full potential is an example of how the University is intertwined with the community and local school district, a relationship that benefits area students.
Her working relationship with UNF continues. Shubert now guides student learning as the principal of Kings Trail Elementary, which is designated by the district as a high-needs school. In that role, Shubert works with her staff and faculty from the University’s College of Education and Human Services to raise the literacy of the students, many of whom are learning English as a second language. In fact, 38 of every 100 students at the school arrive without the language proficiencies they need to succeed.
The school district’s partnership with her alma mater has made all the difference in this challenging learning environment, Shubert will tell you. “In everything we do, the University of North Florida is involved, and that is a huge benefit for our community,” she said.
Bringing UNF faculty into schools
To provide needed resources, UNF has designated Kings Trail Elementary as a Professional Development School. There are eight such schools around the Jacksonville area, and at each, the University has created a Faculty Residence Program. At Kings Trail Elementary, Dr. Tia Kimball is the “Professor in Residence.” She spends most of her time at the school providing her expert knowledge in TESOL — Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages. Also a UNF alumna, Kimball, ‘02, ‘08, mentors the teachers on effective methods to teach English and works with children one-on-one or in small groups in the classroom. On the district’s early-release days, she also works with several newer teachers at the school or conducts whole-school professional development as it relates to English language learners.
Other schools ask for her help as well. As the only TESOL expert in the Faculty Residence Program, and a researcher in the field, Kimball has done presentations at district schools that have a high percentage of children learning English as a second language. “Bringing professors into the school is very important because we are able to close that gap between research and practice,” Kimball said.
To add further assistance, UNF adjunct Patricia Grant, in the Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Department, also works at Kings Trail Elementary as Resident Clinical Faculty. Paid by UNF and Duval County Public Schools jointly, Grant’s role is integral to the supervision of teacher candidates and the Jacksonville Teacher Residency program, which includes the development of mentors.
Extending the power of the partnership
There are days that UNF professionals at Kings Trail wish they could be in many elementary schools at once to help more children. Although that is not possible, Dr. Tia Kimball feels she is doing the next best thing: sharing her knowledge with up-and-coming educators in a setting that allows for hands-on learning. She teaches a TESOL Methods and Curriculum course to UNF students on location at Kings Trail. As part of the class, students spend a 36-hour field experience making weekly instructional plans and working with the children, which allows them to put the theory into practice. In this way, both UNF and the elementary students benefit.
Yet the learning doesn’t stop there. Kimball’s former student Meaghan Cahill went on to work as an intern with mentor teacher Caran Mullins at San Jose Elementary School. Mullins said that Cahill had gained so much knowledge from using the learning strategies with children in the classroom that she was able to share techniques with Mullins. “Ms. Cahill had first-hand knowledge because Dr. Kimball provided her students with practice creating units,” said Mullins, explaining that district teachers get instruction too, but not combined with practice in the classroom. “Since working with Ms. Cahill, I have been able to incorporate these strategies into my daily teaching and share what I have learned with colleagues.” Mullins believes that Kimball’s course reaches far beyond the walls of the College of Education and Human Services and touches many in the community.
Engaging together for students
Dr. Jamey Burns oversees the Professional Development Schools as UNF’s director of Partnerships and Clinical Studies. She sees this partnership as a way to respond to community needs and to support individual schools. “The program also allows us to pull together resources from the community and the University and engage together for the best interests of the students,” Burns said.
In her role, Burns serves as the link between the University and all field experience. She communicates with principals, with district level staff, with mentor teachers, with the interns, and with the faculty of the University who spend time in Duval and Clay County schools. “We’re really excited to move into next year with intentionally aligning professional development with the strategic plans of each individual Professional Development School,” Burns said. “We will be moving more courses into the schools and teaching more of the students’ coursework there as well, so they can connect theory to practice.”
Dr. Chris White, with Duval County Public Schools, is the district’s partner with Burns. As director of the Jacksonville Teacher Residency and supervisor for the Professional Development Schools for DCPS, White sees the positive effect of the partnership. “The administration and faculty at Kings Trail Elementary take full advantage of and are enthusiastically engaged in the Professional Development School partnership in every way,” White said. “The mentor base we’ve been able to create there has been an integral part of preparing excellent UNF teacher candidates.”
Shaping an important message
The UNF partnership adds many benefits beyond literacy. For Shubert, now in her fifth year as principal, it’s also important for the children to meet University educators and learn about career and life options. In many ways, Shubert believes UNF changed her life, and she wants students to have the same choice. Whatever learning challenges students face, she stands as an example to them as a local student who went to college and then returned to make a difference.
As a result, the principal promotes a career-ready and college theme at the school. On career days, professionals from the community visit the classrooms to discuss their work. And whenever there is an opportunity, she promotes the importance of striving to learn in order to attend college, even taking the school’s fifth graders on an annual field trip to UNF.
“I want them to know that college is an option,” Shubert said. “It’s all about exposure. I want students and their parents to realize that college is attainable. It’s within their reach. It may not be for everyone, but it is an option, and the University of North Florida is right here in Jacksonville.”