Exchange program allows Philly, Iowa teachers to diversify classroom experience

Aspiring teachers usually receive their training in schools similar to the ones where they will work, which can end up giving them a narrow view of how learning happens. An innovative program gives two students from Temple University and two from Simpson College in Iowa the opportunity to explore each others’ worlds.

Kaylin Womack and Kashonda Mann of Temple, and Cora Musfeldt and Meg Parks spent a month together this spring, with two weeks in Iowa and two in Pennsylvania. In each state, they not only visited local schools and taught sample lessons, they lived together and explored local arts and culture — a hot-air balloon ride in Iowa, a Phillies game here.

All four agree it was an eye-opening experience. “I thought I was pretty open to diversity,” Mann said, “but it’s easy to be sensitive to things you’re used to. It’s a matter of training your eyes to see the things you’re not used to.” If a student has his head down on the desk, is he being uncooperative, or is he tired? What’s going on at his home, in his neighborhood?

The women developed strong friendships that they look forward to maintaining for years to come. “It’s great having new friends to talk about education with,” Womack said. “My friends here aren’t necessarily interested, but all of us can discuss our ideas for hours.”

Four years of Temple’s STEP program

This is the fourth year of the Simpson-Temple Exchange Program, which was funded by a Temple alumna. Carol Zahn Booth, class of 1947, had her own cross-cultural experiences as a teenager: She was the white daughter of the principal at a predominantly black West Philadelphia high school. The four STEP participants had dinner with Booth in Iowa, and all agreed that it was a highlight of their month.

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