Medaille Grads Get High Marks for Commitment to Students Across WNY


By Michelle Cefaratti, visiting instructor, Division of Education

Shakwana RosenthalThere's a lot of talk these days about failing schools and teacher accountability. Enough to leave few thinking it's an earnest profession. But, despite the rhetoric, these Medaille gradautes are working relentlessly to improve the school experience.

We took a look at what's going on in these classrooms, and we think you'll agree that there are some pretty exceptional things happening.

At Westminister Community Charter School, located in Buffalo’s Promise Neighborhood, Shakwana Rosenthal ’06 ’08 is working to improve the educational experiences for kids. She has been a teacher at the school since completing her student teaching there (and knocking their socks off!) in 2006. She credits the solid preparation she received at Medaille for her ability to successfully arm her students with important literacy skills.

Rosenthal has recently become a literacy specialist and reading recovery teacher at Westminster. She feels that the foundation set at Medaille for utilizing best teaching practices and a thirst for continual professional development has allowed her to “sharpen the craft.” 

“As a new literacy specialist, I feel confi dent in my abilities and in my expertise in literacy instruction. I can only attribute this to the education I received at Medaille College,” says Rosenthal.

She is helping to level the playing field for the students she teaches. Each day she supports struggling readers and writers by arming them with strategies and the confidence they need to delve into accuracy, fluency and comprehension. “I am, in turn, giving them the spark they need to be lifelong lovers of reading,” explains Rosenthal.

She knows that in order for kids to be successful in content areas such as math and science, they need to be able to read, and that the tools she is giving them now are tools they will use throughout their lives. Rosenthal believes illiteracy is contributing to high drop-out rates in our schools, and that the work she is doing to catch students at an early stage will diminish the number of students who become frustrated and disengaged.

"If a struggling child experiences a little success, they will then have reason to experience that success again," says Rosenthal. "I feel I have accomplished this as a classroom teacher and now as a literacy specialist in my school."

A high degree of commitment. Just around the corner from the Westminister Charter School, Lennail Bailey '07 '09 '12 is the director of the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood Children's Center that opened this September and an education supervisor for Bethel Head Start in Buffalo.

The Buffalo Promise Neighborhood is a one square mile, 97-block neighborhood on Buffalo’s East Side. The area has been recognized as high need because of its challenges relating to poverty, crime and blight. Also because of its boundless potential, high number of school-aged children and plentiful cultural assets, community groups have organized a partnership focusing on education reform.

The Children’s Center offers families resources, schooling and support that make Bailey’s job exciting and meaningful. Bailey has received three degrees from Medaille: an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education with a concentration in English; a Master’s degree in Literacy and another Master’s in Organizational Leadership.

Bailey’s literacy degree made it possible for her to obtain her position as a reading teacher with the Board of Education and gave her the skills she imparts to the teachers she works with in her current position. Her Organizational Management degree taught her about organizational systems and teamwork something she stresses with the staff at Bethel where it’s all about collaboration.

“It was really a pleasure to go to Medaille,” says Bailey. “The teachers did so much to prepare me for what I do now. Without Medaille, I would not be able to do it.” 

She works to level the playing fi eld for at-risk children by staying focused on Head Start’s mission to provide educational experiences and services to help children achieve their fullest potential. Bailey credits her experiences in the Literacy Program with helping her to understand what the students need to be successful.

“For early foundations, literacy is so important. Everything we give them they’re taking to kindergarten,” explains Bailey. 

She is able to use her background to contribute positively to classroom instruction and assist teachers in developing students’ literacy skills. Another essential part of Bethel’s success is parent involvement. “We do a lot with the families,” says Bailey.

She is currently working on a doctoral degree in Education Leadership, so she still has work to do. We may see Bailey leading future education policy that is focused on all of the things she has learned that make a diff erence for kids; positive experiences in schools, values and developing the whole child.

Building knowledge. Melissa Moore '10 earned her Master’s degree in literacy from Medaille. Since then she has been working as a reading specialist in the Williamsville Central School District and has recently been selected to participate in Reading Recovery training, an intestive early intervention program for students in first grade who are among the lowest achieving readers. The training requires an organized teacher with a keen understanding of literacy instruction. Moore credits her positive experience in the Literacy Program at Medaille with providing a good foundation in best teaching practices. 

“At Medaille, I was given the opportunity to work directly with at-risk readers through the tutoring programs offered at the Reading Center,” says Moore. “This hands on experience allowed me to become familiar with diagnostic assessments and prepared me to effectively analyze each to target student needs."

Moore feels she’s preparing kids for success every day in the classroom. “In Reading Recovery, we celebrate what the child knows each and every day,” she explains. “It’s all about building knowledge day-by-day based on careful scaffolding targeted to the individual child. Our goal is to have each child exit the program loving to read and write."

Setting the proper tone in the classroom goes a long way in helping children succeed. "We do this not only by targeting our instruction, but also by creating a positive environment where children feel comfortable to take risks when learning," sayd Moore. "We know that the confidence we help build carries over into the classroom."

Teaching through the arts. Amber Dixon ’91 is a familiar face in Buffalo, primarily for her role as interim Superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools. But she’s currently making a difference in another way. Today, Dixon serves as the Executive Director of the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology.

The state-of-the-art center provides after school arts programs for at-risk high school students. Participation allows students to explore the arts and realize their undiscovered talents; something research shows serves as incentive to improve attendance in school and in turn academic performance. Her role allows her to see children re-engage with school.

Programs for students who might not succeed in traditional academic subjects are not just an alternative method for students to learn. At times, the programs are the only opportunity for some to shine. The arts allow students the chance to develop positive self-concepts and explore their natural talents. Research supports the notion learning is enhanced and academic achievement is improved with exposure to the arts. 

How did Medaille help Dixon in this pursuit to affect positive change for kids?

“Medaille helped me with my job in providing the flexibility for me, a working single mother, to earn a degree at night,” Dixon explains. “The instruction I received was provided by skilled practititoners. It was an extremely practical education, ensuring that my classroom situations left me feeling prepared."

Pictured: Shakwana Rosenthal '06 '08, literacy specialist and reading recovery teacher, Westminister Community Charter School.

 

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