WCSU-DHS ‘teaching fellows’ spend summer in the classroom

Image of WCSU-DHS teaching fellowsDANBURY, CONN. — Under the watchful eye of elementary education majors at Western Connecticut State University, high school students are learning to pass valuable skills along to younger students.

Eight Danbury High School students, designated as WCSU-DHS teaching fellows, are spending their summer in the classroom tutoring elementary school students to increase literacy and language skills. The high school students are interested in teaching careers.

The pilot program is a partnership between WCSU and Danbury Public Schools. The fellows are high school juniors and seniors also enrolled in Upward Bound. ConnCap/Upward Bound is a year-round program in which 120 students from grades 9-12 are given the tools to strengthen their academic and leadership skills. Students come from families where neither parent has completed a college degree or that qualify at certain income levels.

The tutoring takes place in small groups in classrooms at Ellsworth Avenue Elementary School. Each WCSU student, including some recent graduates, oversees two DHS teaching fellows as they guide their elementary students through a variety of experiential learning projects. Almost all of the elementary school students do not speak English as their first language.

There are four mentors from WCSU and eight high school students, all bilingual, speaking either Spanish, Portuguese, or in some cases, both. The program aims to eventually provide the education system with a more diverse faculty to accommodate the number of bilingual students in Connecticut schools. Funding for the program was through an award granted by the Connecticut Department of Education.

The theme of the summer program is organic gardening and sustainability. A community garden planted behind the school serves as a hands-on learning tool. Students learned about sustainable farming, as well as high-level vocabulary associated with gardening, such as “photosynthesis” and “fertilizer.”

The elementary students are encouraged to use their improving literacy skills in innovative ways. By using new iPad software called Lego Storybuilder, students create comic strip stories in which they aim to persuade farmers to go organic. Through these exercises, students learn to persuade, justify and argue.

Yago Zoccarato, a junior at DHS, has been enrolled in ConnCAP since his freshman year. He is considering a degree in education at Western after his high school graduation.

“I like to help people with things. I like to tutor,” he said, seated at a low table surrounded by various Lego bits and excited elementary students. “I thought this was the perfect chance to see if I wanted to pursue a career in teaching. I notice that they actually learn things that we taught them. They have been using those words in sentences and stories they’ve created.”

Recent WCSU elementary education graduate Abby Radzimirski volunteered her time to mentor.

“I want to help students looking to pursue education,” she said, adding that it’s important that they recognize the impact they have on the younger students. “They see that being bilingual is a positive thing.”

In addition to teaching strategies, the teaching fellows are learning how technology interacts with and influences instruction. They also learn how to plan lessons, write curriculum and integrate drawing, reading and writing into everyday exploratory learning.

Dr. Robin James, a WCSU assistant professor in the Education and Educational Psychology Department, said that the program is a great way for everyone to give back to the community.

“It’s got a lot of layers, but it’s successful because of the partnership between WCSU and Danbury schools,” James said.

Because of the number of English-language learners in the program, James said the curriculum is designed to focus on strengthening literacy and English skills. Many of the fellows are bilingual and relate well to the students, James said.

“The teaching fellows remember what it was like to be like them,” James said. “And the elementary school students are seeing good role models.”

In the fall, the WCSU-DHS fellows will be tutoring their peers at a high school after-school program.

For more information, contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.


Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.


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