Campus & Community

HGSE students go back to high school — to mentor

4 min read

When Alexandra Fuentes and Alicia Rosenberg enlisted in the Teacher Education Program (TEP) as students in the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), they were infiltrating a chaotic realm of teenagers and homework — and life would never be the same again: They were going back to high school.

Fuentes and Rosenberg — who graduate today (June 4) — were summer school teachers at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (CRLS) in Harvard’s backyard. The Puerto Rico-born Fuentes was tapped for biology classes, and Rosenberg, a history aficionado from Newton, Mass., taught a course covering the Enlightenment through the Cold War. Both served on teaching teams with educators in the Cambridge-Harvard Summer Academy (CHSA) at CRLS, a University-public school partnership that gives teachers in training the experience they need and local high schoolers a fresh approach to course work.

Launched in summer 2001, the Cambridge-Harvard Summer Academy consists of a six-week intensive summer course manned by graduate student interns who are paired with experienced mentor teachers. Most high school students who enroll in summer school struggled in the class the previous year or want to retake it for a better grade; a few others seek to get ahead by completing a new course.

“This partnership between CRLS and Harvard is mutually beneficial, offering young people an alternative setting for academic success, and both aspiring and practicing teachers a chance to connect with students who, for a myriad of reasons, have not fared as well during the regular school year,” said Keith Catone, an HGSE doctoral student and CHSA director from 2007 to 2008.

“It’s nice having a school in the same community as Harvard,” said Rosenberg. “It creates a strong connection between the two.”

Upon graduating from college, Rosenberg, who had originally planned to go into law, decided not to be a lawyer, after all. She moved to Washington, D.C., and began working at a school that she will soon return to, having accepted a post as a middle-school history teacher.

“History shaped the way I thought about the world,” said Rosenberg of her college history studies. “It was a very transformative experience. I want to be able to do that for students, but at a younger age.”

The tradition of teaching runs deep in the Fuentes family. Fuentes will also head to Washington, D.C., after graduation to teach high school. “I didn’t go into college thinking teaching was what my career would be.”

But as a preschool volunteer in Pittsburgh, where she attended college, Fuentes met a 3-year-old who changed her career outlook. “We were playing in a housekeeping area, and I asked her, ‘What’s your favorite recipe?’ and she said, ‘The recipe of imagination.’

“I was so impressed that despite how rough her life was, and that at such a young age she just wanted to learn. And I wondered who would be there to keep that going.”

In the end, it was the kids who captured Fuentes’ heart. “I fell in love with them,” she said. “And I saw some areas that could use improvement and wanted to be a part of that.”

Public schools in urban areas are fertile ground for the improvement Fuentes speaks of. “CRLS is very diverse — ethnically, racially, socioeconomically.” Rosenberg encourages students to embrace their diversity and to use it as a tool of empowerment.

“Teaching has made me much more aware of my role in society, of how much I can affect other people,” said Fuentes. “We become role models and what we do is very powerful — how we act and live our lives.”

Over the summer, Fuentes and Rosenberg will leave Cambridge, and eventually make their way to D.C., preparing once again for class in the fall. It’s bittersweet, they say, and emotional, too. “These kids have given me a renewed sense of curiosity,” said Fuentes.

“This program is a win-win,” said Katherine K. Merseth, director of the Teacher Education Program. “The teachers and students are learning together and that’s what education is all about.”

“There is a tremendous amount of work going on that’s connecting our universities’ resources to the needs of our community. The CHSA is just one example,” said Carolyn Turk, acting superintendent of Cambridge Public Schools.  “We are a stronger community because of these connections, and I hope that we can continue this work to move us into the future together.”

“I cannot imagine starting as a new teacher without this experience,” claimed Rosenberg. “One of my biggest lessons,” said Fuentes, “was caring for students, showing them that critical care, and believing that they are capable, and capable of succeeding.”