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News and Events

Back to School

by Laurie Callahan

For most university professors, a sabbatical is a time away from teaching to do research, write, travel, or simply take a break. But for Dr. Alice Young, Marymount professor of Education, a recent sabbatical was a chance to return to
the elementary-school classroom after 17 years.
When a sixth grade teacher at Freedom Hill Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia, took maternity leave, Dr. Young seized the opportunity to reconnect with the experience of teaching children. She says, “I’m always looking to ensure credibility and best practices in the courses that I teach at Marymount.” She laughs, “I also wanted see if I could still
do it!”

Dr. Alice Young
The assignment was also an opportunity for Dr. Young to mentor a novice teacher – Sheila Brosnan, a Marymount senior majoring in Liberal Studies and minoring in Elementary Education. Sheila observed and assisted Dr. Young in the classroom during the first eight weeks of her assignment at Freedom Hill, then took over as the substitute teacher. During the remaining weeks, Alice Young visited the classroom periodically to observe and advise Sheila.

Dr. Young quickly found herself immersed in the life of the school. She says, “Freedom Hill is a glorious school! It’s very diverse. Our class had 26 children, representing 16 countries. They were Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic, and Protestant, with no majority. But I found that there were more similarities than differences. Children are children, and learning is learning.”

While children are still children, Dr. Young soon discovered that much has changed since she left elementary teaching to pursue a career in higher education nearly two decades ago. She says, “I left the classroom right before the Web became widely available. At Freedom Hill today, each room has a smart board and there’s a computer lab, plus a portable computer lab with laptops shared by three classes. The resources are phenomenal!”

In curriculum planning and development, Dr. Young turned to the other teachers for guidance. She says, “In some ways, I was back to being a first-year teacher again. I asked a million questions, and that started a dialogue among all the upper-grade teachers.”

She points out, “You can’t have all the answers yourself. No matter what stage you have reached in your career, you need to use all of the available resources. If we preach anything at Marymount, it’s that you’re part of a team.” Dr. Young adds, “Today, schools work hard to instill this approach in their teaching staffs. They use a team model, which includes an instructional coach and a reading teacher. The support system today is much better than it used to be.” And, she notes, “Today’s curriculum is more focused because of the Standards of Learning testing.”

Timothy Stanley, principal of Freedom Hill, was thrilled to have the two guests from Marymount teaching at his school. He says, “Dr. Young provided our upper-grade staff with access to new strategies. In fact, both Alice and Sheila improved collaboration here. Alice came in as a learner and developed great relationships with the other teachers, and Sheila kept that going when she moved into the substitute role. They both brought new ideas that have been beneficial for everyone.”

While Dr. Young was getting used to teaching Algebra again and coping with students doing research via YouTube, her students were adjusting to her and Ms. Brosnan. When the class was asked about the transition from their regular teacher to these new faces, Jenny Kim raised her hand and replied, “Everyone has a different perspective. It was interesting because they have different points of view, but they included as much as they could of what Mrs. Moser, our regular teacher, was doing.” Classmate Alex Evanoff added, “One day, we were doing poetry, and we created a class poem about all the changes that have happened in this class!”

The sixth graders adapted well to their new teachers and were clearly enthusiastic learners.

Alice Young notes that these students, who come from such varied backgrounds, “see strength in different points of view and are adept at considering situations from a variety of angles” – a skill that will serve them well throughout life. When she returns to her Marymount students in the fall, Dr. Young will also bring a new and different point of view – gleaned from her recent trip back to elementary school.