Utah public schools, BYU partner to fill education needs

Ari Davis
A student teacher from BYU’s McKay School of Education reads to her elementary school class. BYU celebrates 30 years of partnership with public schools this year. (Ari Davis)

The LDS Church’s October 2012 missionary age requirement changed more than just the number of missionaries in the field–it affected education down to its elementary level.

Many freshman and sophomore girls deferred from their programs to serve missions, and predominately female majors, like the Elementary Education Program at the David O. McKay School of Education, experienced a sharp decline in enrollment.

Partners outside of the McKay School immediately felt the effects. Mike Tunnell, chair of BYU’s teacher education department, “was surprised at how upsetting (the decreased enrollment) was for people in the public schools.”

Decreased enrollment meant fewer student interns at local schools. This created a problem because interns are an important resource for the school districts, and district administrators often rely on them for future hiring. The McKay School is finding ways to ensure that intern numbers stay up.

The McKay School is involved in a public school partnership with five major Utah public school districts, including Alpine, Jordan, Nebo, Provo and Wasatch. Gary Seastrand, executive director of the BYU-Public School Partnership, said the partnership has “created an amazing culture of trust and support.”

Seastrand explained the established trust enables effective communication and the ability to take on new problems. He related a similar experience, when the partnering districts had a shortage of teachers qualified to work with ESL students. BYU responded by creating a minor that qualifies students to work with ESL students.

The partnership has been able to establish mutually beneficial programs that improve practicing professionals and students. Existing teachers come to BYU for endorsements to improve and increase their skills and teacher candidates, while students of the McKay School can go into the field and learn firsthand from practicing professionals.

This relationship has proven valuable to the McKay School, the partnering districts and students on campus. Olivia Hayworth, a senior studying elementary education, said she has personally benefited from the partnership. “It gives me a chance to have really authentic teaching experiences,” she said.

The collaboration has laid a foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship capable of effective problem-solving. Both Seastrand and Tunnell said this makes the partnership unique nationwide. Seastrand added that the partnership “facilitates the improvement of practices” and believes that, as a result, it has “elevated the achievement of all six members, including the university.”

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