Santa Rosa Mentor Program Hones Teaching Skills

Milton - “Let’s all read the last page together, ready?” asked Jenna Murchison.

Milton – “Let’s all read the last page together, ready?” asked Jenna Murchison.

Murchison, a teacher working with five first-grade students, presided over the group that was re-reading a story called “Hide from Max Monkey.” After they read the story, Murchison led students through an exercise during which they identified sounds the letter o makes.

“We are practicing spelling and going over vowels,” Murchison said.

The students used dry-erase boards and markers to classify words according to the sound the vowels make. They wrote “drop,” “foot” and “rope” on three different lists. Then, they all wrote down a sentence they repeated aloud to each other: “Did Kate drop the wood tray?”

The group was at Bennett Russell Elementary School in Milton. Murchison, a junior majoring in elementary education at the University of West Florida, was teaching the reading lesson as a mentor in the Santa Rosa Tutor/ Mentor Program. The program is a partnership between the Institute for Innovative Community Learning at UWF and the Santa Rosa County School District.

“This program came about as a collaboration, and it continues to meet the needs of the district as well as the needs of our students at UWF,” said Dr. Kathleen Heubach, director of the UWF institute.

The Santa Rosa district needs qualified instructors to help teach its early intervention learning program for reading in grades kindergarten through five. UWF education students who fill this need gain experience teaching and working in a classroom. They also receive pay for their time doing small-group instruction in support of classroom teachers.

“I love this opportunity to enhance my teaching skills,” Murchison said. “I suggest anyone studying education look into doing it.”

Joshua Davis laughs at the antics of the characters in a book as he is being tutored by a UWF student.

To become a mentor, students must go through a selection process in the education department of the UWF College of Education and Professional Studies, according to Dr. Dana Boddy, program coordinator. They maintain a 3.0 GPA and submit three references. Students are eligible to mentor during their junior and senior years. Graduate students may also participate.

Heubach said the program is in its eight year, and hundreds of UWF students have participated in it. This year, UWF has 17 mentors in Santa Rosa County.

The mentors take one full day of training, and the rest of their professional development happens while they are at their assigned schools. The mentors work with teachers at the schools whose job it is to oversee specialized instruction. At first, the specialists model small group reading lessons. Then, the mentor begins to teach the lessons, and the specialist observes. The specialist supervises, directs and supports the mentors throughout the school year.

“Our mentors are getting invaluable hands-on experience in classrooms,” Heubach said. “This is ultimately beneficial to them when they start their careers.”

Murchison, who spends three hours a day, five days a week in the classroom at Bennett Russell Elementary, sees the benefits of the mentor program.

“I get to put into practice everything I am learning about in my UWF classes, and I get the benefit of collaborating with other educators and learning from their years of experience,” Murchison said.

“I have definitely improved my teaching skills on every level from the smallest things to the big picture.