NYC WSP: Williams students tackle education in the Big Apple

This past Winter Study, Williams students, along with students from Amherst, Middlebury and Smith, learned about the inner workings of urban education by serving as teacher’s assistants throughout various public and charter schools in New York City.

“Most of the time, when we hear about inner city education it is from some rehearsed bureaucrat who spouts the same old clichés that we have learned to believe,” John Rudoy ’05 said. “Eating lunches with teachers who were living on $20,000 a year and enduring 10 hour days and arbitrary standardized tests was much more educational than any of the televised sound bytes.”

From day one, Williams students immersed themselves in classrooms. Program participants tutored and mentored students one-on-one, graded papers, developed and taught lesson plans and observed their assigned teacher(s) in action.

Each school’s environment differed immensely, thereby providing each participant a different but rewarding experience. Some students were fortunate to work at schools where every student had his or her own personal laptop, while others found themselves going through a metal detector every morning.

For students in the program, the challenges of urban education came to life. “The administration and faculty already work [hard]. . . to substitute for the lack of motivation and structure from home and when the kids are not in school,” Rui Nie ’05 said.

“The most valuable part of the experience was the interaction with the teachers,” Rudoy said.

This Winter Study course also included weekly discussion forums, which entailed several guest lectures from Dr. Rose McGough, associate dean of advisement at Marymount, Leroy Nesbit, senior advisor for institutional diversity at Middlebury, Sam Intrator, professor of education and child study at Smith, Philip Smith, coordinator of high school/college partnerships and alumni from Williams, Amherst and Smith who are currently teaching in the NYC public school system. At one forum, Dr. McGough advised students not to teach unless they truly wanted to: “You can ruin a [student’s] life,” she said.

Serving as an icebreaker, these discussion sessions allowed students to candidly share their personal thoughts and ideas about teaching and their experiences in-and-outside of the classroom.

“We were fortunate in the program to hear [these and other] talks on the broader system of New York City education, which helped put things in perspective,”Nie said. “However, one thing that troubled me and the other interns was the fact that no matter how good the format of the classes were or how good the administration was, many of the kids were simply not doing well and did not know how [to do well].”

This experience was not all work; there was definitely some time to have fun.

When not enjoying the lavish accommodations at the four-star West Side YMCA, students partook in fine dining at restaurants like the Silk Road, Sushi Samba and even J.T.’s Famous Bar and Grill; caught Broadway shows, such as Rent and Cabaret and even saw the NYC Ballet perform at Lincoln Center. Student participants also frequented many of the city’s critically acclaimed art galleries and museums, including the Frick Collection, the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And of course, the city’s many bars and nightclubs were hot spots for students to unwind after a hard day on the job. Throughout the month, there were also several celebrity sightings, from Steve Case, Williams alumnus and former CEO and chairman of the board of AOL/Time Warner, to ‘teen-age heartthrob’ John Mayer.

Putting everything in perspective, the Williams NYC Teaching Program enabled its participants to gain a better understanding of and appreciation for teaching and education.