The newest cohort of Urban Teacher Preparation Academy students from the University of Central Oklahoma and University of Oklahoma learned education can be a powerful weapon in keeping children out of gangs from those who have seen first-hand how gang violence impacts Oklahoma City youth.
The students attended a workshop with members of the Oklahoma City Police Department recently at it’s Northeast Family Awareness and Community Teamwork center to increase their awareness of how mentorship can play a positive role in their students’ lives, especially those at risk for joining a gang.
The workshop is a part of the intensive, targeted training students in the UTPA receive to prepare them to excel in urban classrooms. The only program of its type in the state, the UTPA is an innovative program that works in close partnership with Oklahoma City Public Schools to place upper-level education majors in schools throughout the district for three years of mentored clinical teaching experience.
OKCPD Sgt. Freddy Hernandez and Sgt. T.G. Childs shared their personal stories of gang interventions in the area, and emphasized how a positive force in childrens’ lives can be the difference maker in preventing gang involvement.
“Moral compasses need to be shaped by a positive influence,” OKCPD Lt. Paco Balderrama said. “Education from somewhere positive is key.”
UTPA students learned what makes a gang, how to identify gang members, what a gang offers and why some students choose to join. Understanding these factors is important for the UTPA student teachers, as gangs are a current reality in many Oklahoma City public schools. Ultimately, teachers can serve as a guide to lead those at-risk students to the OKCPD’s FACT program, which provides community facilities, activities and education for at-risk youth as an alternative to progression into criminal behavior.
“Having knowledge will allow these future teachers to interact more safely and effectively with students or family members who have gang affiliations,” said Teresa DeBacker, UTPA coordinator for OU’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education.
“More importantly, they learned about the OKCPD FACTS program. Seeing the community center, and knowing about the reach and effectiveness of the FACTS program prepares these future teachers to be important partners in efforts to provide an alternative vision of the future of young people who are at risk for gang involvement.”
The UTPA immerses students in the challenges of teaching in an urban setting with real-world experience in OKCPS elementary, middle and high schools. Students in the program have a yearlong clinical teaching experience, followed by a two-year induction and mentoring process. The program includes professional development for the OKCPS teachers and administrators serving as mentors for UTPA students.
Students selected for the academy go through a competitive application process and exhibit the passion, knowledge and determination that are vital to being a highly effective teacher in an urban setting.
Since the first cohort started in the program at UCO in 2010, 34 students have participated, with 17 of those now employed as full-time teachers in the OKCPS district and 13 currently student teaching. An additional two graduates are teaching full time in other urban districts in the state.
FOR MORE information on the UTPA at UCO, visit www.uco.edu/ceps/utpa or call 405-974-5144, and at OU call 405-325-1275.