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Teachers learn ropes, students benefit at summer academy camp

Soon after graduating from UTB-TSC with a degree in criminal justice, Amanda Cortez realized that what she really wanted to do was teach.

Luckily, The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College has an alternative certification program and something called Transition to Teaching Through Technology.

“They take us through a step-by-step process on how to become not just an effective teacher but an efficient teacher,” Cortez said last week during an academic summer camp at Saint Mary’s Catholic School taught by Transition to Teaching teachers.

“The kids are great, they’re wonderful,” she said. “The program gives me the hands-on experience I need. It’s not just standing up in front of a class and teaching something. It’s giving the students an experience they’ll remember. It’s engaging them.”

This was the second year for the Transition to Teaching summer camp. Seventy-two children from Saint Mary’s including a few from other area schools enrolled. They will be next year’s first- through fourth-graders.

The students were divided into two groups — first- and second-graders with Cortez as the lead teacher and third- and fourth-graders with Sister Monica Teresa Garcia as the lead teacher.

The theme for the camp was “Passport to the World/Compassion for All.” Each day the students visited one of four countries — Australia, Kenya, Peru and Vietnam. They got their “passports” stamped at the end of each day after learning about that country. The compassion element involved teaching the children the importance of always reaching out to others.

On Friday, students performed a skit for their parents, with the price of admission being a canned good to be given to the needy.

Carmen Garcia-Caceres, director of alternative teacher certification and the Transition to Teaching program at UTB-TSC, said the one of the best ways to prepare future teachers is to give them the actual experience of teaching.

Cortez’s team of practicing teachers included Elodia Canas and Clarissa Aguilar. Sister Garcia’s team included Aida Meeks, Guadalupe R. Del Monte and Nancy Alanis. Thirteen teacher assistants from National Science Foundation’s Noyce teacher scholarship program assisted them on a rotating basis.

Caceres said many of the teachers in the program already are ready to be hired.

The Transition to Teaching program is at the end of a five-year grant received in 2007 from the U.S. Department of Education to implement an alternative teaching certification program. Thirty-five participants have been fully certified as teachers and are employed with the local school districts, Caceres said.

By GARY LONG The Brownsville Herald

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