Kids as Teachers — in Queens, for real

Many people come to teaching through circuitous routes, but at the Queens High School of Teaching, the concept of education as a career is focused, and for many of the students, a revelation.  Now entering its fourth year, the school is situated on a sprawling 32-acre campus in Bellerose, sharing the space with two grammar schools, P.S./I.S. 266 and 208. This year, enrollment has increased from 930 to 1250 students, along with a growing teaching staff.

   High schoolers are lured by its Teaching Institute (TI), a year-long program where, based on a student-written letter of application, 75 students from 10th grade on are selected to one of three “communities”. Each community has 25 students, and each week, there are two hours devoted to educational seminars, where students learn about classroom preparation. This also includes reading articles from education journals and magazines and discussing effective (as well as ineffective) teaching techniques.  For an additional 2-6 hours a week, students intern as teachers at the two neighboring grammar schools. If a student does not make the cut into the program one year, he or she can apply again the following year.

   The Teaching Institute’s curriculum also includes student/teacher observation. Five observation rooms are equipped with one-way mirrors. Students can sit and observe two classes in session simultaneously, while having a discussion with their own teacher. The student teachers also regularly participate in in-class observation, or “open-door laboratories”.

   “I know that this experience is one that I will never forget,” says Naseeba Ramjan, a TI student who interned with a third grade class. “I also know that at my age, it is very rare that a student gets the chance to do this. I feel very lucky to have had that chance.”

   “I loved it,” says Wilfred Chaparro, a senior who participated in the TI program and interned with a fourth grade class. “The kids made me think about wanting to be a teacher. I realized that I’m good with children.”

   Even for those who aren’t necessarily thinking about becoming a teacher, the Institute has proven beneficial. “ I joined T.I. because at some point in my life I am going to have to work with other people. I know that not everyone learns the same way you do,” observes Alexis Avery, who wants to be a medical examiner.

   In addition to the Teaching Institute, the school is involved with other academic programs of note, including College Now, a summer program with Queens College and Queensborough Community College; weekend programs with New York University, where students receive scholarships to take college courses; and LEDA National Scholars Program, a program that recruits city school kids for Ivy League universities. The school has also participated in special projects with Alley Pond Environmental Center in Douglaston.

   Queens High School of Teaching, dubbed “Different By Design”, was created by principal Nigel Pugh, who was given carte blanche to design the school’s program core by former Queens School Superintendent John Lee in 2001. Pugh, who began teaching English back in inner-city London in the 1970s, has cultivated a nurturing environment where there is a complete fusion of not only students of all races and academic levels, but also physical disabilities.  It is a ‘barrier-free school’ for physically disabled students, designed with special ramps and elevators. So, if a student from Forest Hills with a physical disability wishes to attend, zone is not an issue. “The culture of this school is inclusive,” stresses Pugh. “A child who has always had to go on the special bus becomes independent here.”

   Music and the arts, which are oftentimes the first programs to be cut when budget time comes, are important here. Last year, a collection was raised through sales of students’ 2D and 3D postcard projects to purchase 18 acres saved for rainforest conservation, adds Pugh proudly.

    While only zoned for school districts 26 (Bayside) and 29 (Rosedale) right now, next year’s objective is to “petition to expand its geographical base, to extend the Teaching Institute to other students.” says Pugh. It frustrates him that the school can’t accommodate the large number of students who wish to attend. “It’s very heart-rendering.  Some of our students take four buses to get here. We’d love to extend the program to kids all over Queens.”