In a classroom on the third floor of Pepperdine, 15 pairs of graduate students and elementary school kids sit quietly together, whispering and working intently. The classroom door opens and someone enters, but not a single person shifts attention or looks up.
The graduate students are in EDTC 645, a course for the master of arts in education and teaching credential (MAETC) program. Each of them is matched with an elementary student from the community, and the pairs meet at Pepperdine once a week to work on reading and writing skills. Dr. Cara Garcia, professor of education, heads the course, which is free to the children. She explains that, since the program started in the 1970s, its popularity has continued to increase as awareness spreads through word of mouth and a network of satisfied moms.
EDTC 645 challenges graduate students to put the teaching theory they have learned in the classroom into practice. “It’s one of the few times in the teacher ed program where they get one-on-one with students and close faculty supervision,” says Garcia. The innovative program is thought of as a clinic, in which teaching principles and theory are translated into hands-on experience. The current faculty and their areas of interest are Marilyn Brackett, children’s literature and writing; Candace Corliss, multicultural children’s literature; Kathy Church, developmental assets in language arts K-12; Cynthia Dollins, parent education and children’s literature; Lana Erwin, child and adolescent literature and writing; Cara Garcia, academic anxieties and literacy development; Karen Gauthier, student-centered primary instruction; Sharon McClain, children’s literature and writing; Penny Roberts, technology-infused literacy K-12; Deborah Sheiner, open-court coaching; Carole Silva, children’s literature and technology; and Laurie Walters, technology-infused elementary instruction.
Garcia sits at the front of the room, supervising the work, answering questions, and offering suggestions. At the end of each class, the students prepare for the “Author’s Chair,” in which each child reads his work to the rest of the class and is then “interviewed” by the other children. Questions such as “How did you come up with this idea?” are posed. “This really helps the children develop communication and thinking skills,” says Garcia.
Over the course of the semester, the same pairs come together for each meeting. From observing them at work, it is clear that a relationship develops out of this intensive one-on-one experience. Andrew Carreno, a fourth-grade student, and his tutor, Sarah Shapell, are both enthusiastic about the time they have spent together. Shapell notes how important it is to pay attention and respond to each child—she has tailored her work to Carreno’s reading and writing level. Carreno is proud to report that his reading skills have improved a lot since he started the tutoring program. He says happily, “I have been here many times. I love it!”