Growing Valuable Community Partnerships

Growing Valuable Community Partnerships

Illustration of hands in a circle

Establishing partnerships within the community has always been important for the School of Education and Human Development (SEHD) and is more essential now than ever.

Our Jesuit values find a natural home in our professional work as educators and counselors who are socially responsible and affirm diversity in all we do.

— Dean Laurie Grupp, PhD

“Our emergence from two years of Covid has underscored the importance of our collaborations with community partners,” said Laurie Grupp, PhD, dean of the School of Education and Human Development (SEHD). Indeed, the needs of the community have been exacerbated over the past few years. “For one thing, more teachers are leaving the field, so there is a significant teacher shortage in the country. The pandemic has also brought renewed attention to racial inequities and disparities in health care. Now more than ever, we must support our mission to serve the wider community through the education and training of professionals who teach and counsel.”

When K-12 schools reopened after a year of conducting classes virtually, they began reaching out to SEHD to fill both teacher and support positions. “We are aware of learning loss, students' social and emotional challenges, and the need for highly trained and qualified educators to fill those roles," said Dr. Grupp. “As we heard again and again what our schools needed, we began to explore additional reciprocal partnerships.”

The renewed focus on reciprocity is what sets these partnerships apart from earlier ones. SEHD’s recently signed partnership with Bridgeport’s Great Oaks Charter School is one example. The grade 6-12 school prides itself on a unique model that leverages high-dosage tutoring through AmeriCorps Fellows, explained Caitlin Meyer, EdD, director of programs and talent development for the school. Great Oaks is a Title 1 School, and many of its students are immigrants who have recently arrived to this country.

“One of the barriers to recruiting more teachers, especially those from the community we serve, is that Connecticut requires a master’s degree, and that’s expensive,” said Meyer. "Our partnership with Fairfield University gives our teachers a tuition discount while providing Fairfield students with internships and field opportunities at Great Oaks. It’s a win-win for both parties.”

Currently, five Great Oaks teachers are enrolled at Fairfield and four Fairfield alumni teach at Great Oaks. Several Fairfield students are also doing field work at the school. “Fairfield University has consistently produced excellent teachers, and I can see the growth in our teachers as they go through the program,” said Meyer.

Placing Fairfield graduate students in a school like Great Oaks also allows them to understand the unique needs of the immigrant community and will hopefully encourage them to work with populations in need, said Rev. John Savard, S.J., liaison for SEHD community partnerships.

“We not only want to make it doable to access our programs, we want to create a pipeline of people who are interested in teaching, and who stay with the profession,” he said.

SEHD has built these same solid connections with the Diocese of Bridgeport Catholic Schools as well as Milford Public Schools.

“Our connection with Milford came about because the superintendent there, Dr. Anna Cutaia, teaches in our Educational Leadership doctoral program,” said Laura Whitacre, MA, director of educator preparation. “She wanted the teachers in her district to learn more about leadership. For example, if there’s a paraprofessional who wants to be certified as a teacher, how do we make that goal more accessible for working adults? Our discussions have led to a partnership that is mutually beneficial, helping Milford faculty by expanding access to degrees and benefiting the K-12 students in the district by placing Fairfield students in Milford classrooms.”

Partnerships are not limited to schools; SEHD also partners with community health groups, mental health agencies, and organizations such as the YMCA for internships and field work opportunities – and ultimately, jobs – that students in the school psychology, counseling, and social work programs need. In return, partners' staff can receive discounted tuition for both degree and certificate programs. “We start by asking, ‘What is your greatest need, and how can we help?’” said Fr. Savard. “We might look at how we can apply other grant opportunities to the tuition discount to offset the cost of tuition for their staff.”

While educational partnerships have taken priority most recently, SEHD continues to deepen relationships with mental health community partners. “This all links to our mission, to cura personalis, and the apostolic principles of walking with those who have been marginalized,” said Dr. Grupp. “Our Jesuit values find a natural home in our professional work as educators and counselors who are socially responsible and affirm diversity in all we do.”

Tags:  SEHD


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