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Norwin teaching interns get classroom eduction in Pitt program

| Friday, Dec. 15, 2006

Norwin School District has opened its classrooms to welcome three University of Pittsburgh teaching interns who are receiving on-the-job training this year.

This is the first year of the intern program at Norwin. The Pitt students have already received their baccalaureate degrees and have taken some course work in teaching through Pitt's Master of Arts and Teaching program.

"The interns come with emergency teaching certifications," said Dr. Tracey McNelly, director of secondary education at Norwin. "They'll be with us for the entire school year, which gives them the opportunity to understand the workings of a school."

The Pitt interns are also required to attend professional development and staff meetings. The school district pays each a $3,000 stipend and pairs them with a mentor.

Jennifer Stern, 27, of Connellsville, received her bachelor's degree in communications from Penn State and worked at Walt Disney World for three years before heeding the call to teach.

"Seeing the joy on the faces of the children and being with them was the highlight of each day," Stern said. "I decided to go back for my master's degree to pursue a career where I could give back to society. There's more of a reward in knowing that you can make a difference in someone's life, and teachers make that difference."

Stern is working full time at Sheridan Terrace Elementary School under the guidance of third-grade teacher Nancy Abramovic.

"This program is very different than student teaching," Abramovic said. "Student teachers have nine weeks in school, in typically two different classrooms. These Pitt interns will be here from day one until the last day of school."

In addition to working in classrooms all day, the interns also take evening classes at Pitt three to four nights per week.

"It's a very intense program, not for the faint-hearted," Stern said with a laugh.

When Dana Mazur attended Allegheny College with a double major in international studies and German, she didn't know she wanted to be a teacher.

The Cranberry Township resident is now an intern working with Connie Palmer, a social studies teacher at Norwin Middle School.

"I studied abroad in Germany, and my host mother was a teacher," said Mazur, 23. "I saw how much she liked being a teacher."

Mazur admits she entered the Pitt program not knowing anything about teaching.

"Having a good experience in the classroom with Connie makes me want to be in the classroom even more," she added.

Abramovic and Palmer both agreed that having another instructor in the classroom is beneficial, not only to the students but for themselves as well.

"Jennifer helps me with technology, and she comes up with great ideas. It's a give-and-take throughout the day, and it's wonderful," Abramovic said. "Every day we support and encourage each other in the common goal of helping students learn."

"Because there are two of us in the classroom, we are able to differentiate the structure of the lessons as per students' needs," Palmer noted. "The students get more individualized instruction, and for me, it's great to share new ideas. It's nice to be around someone who's in training so I remain fresh and focused."

The Norwin program took shape last spring when officials from Pitt invited administrators down to learn more about the internship program.

"We interviewed interns and put them through interviews just like teachers," McNelly said. "The interns ranked the schools they wanted to work at, the school districts ranked the interns they wanted, and Pitt matched the interns with the schools."

Stern, Mazur and Brian Weaver, another Pitt intern who works with high school social studies teacher Bill Cardiff, were Norwin's top choices.

During the second semester at Norwin, the interns will take on more responsibilities as teachers. According to McNelly, Cardiff and Palmer will become curriculum coaches and put into place some professional development initiatives that the district has implemented over the past several years, including a new literacy program in the elementary schools.

"Dana will have more responsibility in the classroom, but she will still be under my supervision," Palmer added.

Abramovic and Palmer said their interns are assets in their respective classrooms.

"Jennifer is wonderful with the children. She has a natural gift," Abramovic added.

"From day one, Dana had a presence in the classroom," Palmer said. "She has developed a great rapport with the students."

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