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Fellows for the Future in Philadelphia’s Schools

Two Messiah College Philadelphia Campus students accept the invitation to “Love our City. Teach our Children”

Tackling the “old school” reputation of its inner city educational system head-on, the School District of Philadelphia has instituted the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows (PTF) program, designed to recruit, train, and retain highly-qualified and diverse teachers for the public school system’s high-need classrooms.

This program proved to be an ideal fit for two Messiah College students, who studied at Messiah College’s Philadelphia Campus (MCPC) at Temple University, and were drawn to the urban charms and challenges they discovered in America’s sixth largest city.

Amanda Bonnani and Lacey Ward
Amanda Bonanni and Lacey Ward

Amanda Bonanni, ’09 and Lacey Ward, ’09 were two of approximately 1,300 applicants for the PTF program in the fall of 2008. Having successfully completed the application, interview, and selection process, Bonanni and Ward will choose from five graduate-level certification programs to continue their education. A portion of the certification training is funded by the PTF program.

This summer, Bonanni and Ward will attend an intensive pre-service Training Institute, which includes a teaching assignment/observation opportunity in a Philadelphia school with on-site guidance from experienced faculty, professional development seminars, and opportunity for networking with other Fellows.

Ward, an English major, will be teaching English at the high school level. As a mathematics major, Bonanni will be teaching mathematics at the middle school level or high school level.

As both students currently complete their degrees at Messiah’s Grantham campus, we asked them to share about how their time at MCPC helped prepare them for their new careers as educators in the ‘City of Brotherly Love.’

What made you decide to attend the MCPC campus?

Bonanni: I [grew up] an hour from Philadelphia and about two hours from New York City. I have always loved Philadelphia and have always thought that cities are beautiful. My father grew up all over Philadelphia, from Manaynuk to Kensington. Because of him, I became a fan of all Philadelphia sports, mainly the Eagles and the Phillies. My sister went to Messiah and attended the MCPC in the fall of 2004. I remember going to visit her when I was a senior in high school, and having a great time. I knew when I applied to Messiah that I wanted to spend at least one semester in Philly.

Ward: My hometown is approximately 60 miles north of Philadelphia so I did spend a lot of time in the city with family or on school field trips to museums and the zoo. My intent, though, was never to move to a city, and in fact I enjoyed living in a small town [while] having the option to visit the city fairly regularly.

Sophomore year, a friend of mine recommended that I consider Philadelphia Campus and I took a closer look into it. From what I had heard, it was a wonderful program and offered a lot of diverse opportunities to work in the city. I decided to go for the fall semester of my junior year, with no intention of staying longer. While teaching at a high school in the city, I was asked by a few of my students to stay longer and at the last minute, chose to stay for the spring semester as well.

What was it was like to study and live in Philadelphia? Did you become involved with children living in the city?

Bonanni: Studying in Philly was great because of the amazing resources I found at Temple. Temple has an amazing library and Tech Center. I was able to meet classmates and participate in study groups with my fellow Temple students. This proved very helpful for my advanced algebra class. I found resources through my lab partner who showed me a help/tutor room for our physics class. I was also fortunate to have a few Messiah students in my Temple classes.

I had a hard time focusing on studying because of all the city has to offer. A great deal of my time in Philly was spent exploring the city. MCPC helped us to find fun things to do such as go ice skating or going to ethnic restaurants. I always felt like I was a part of a community at MCPC.

I did not experience working with children in Philly. I actually did not decide to be a teacher until my next semester at Messiah when I went on a spring break missions trip to the Bronx.

Ward: Studying in Philadelphia exceeded my expectations of Philadelphia in general and city-life [in particular]. About a week into my semester, I was told about an opportunity to volunteer a couple hours a week tutoring at a high school about six blocks south of MCPC on Broad Street.

Student gifts
A few of the farewell gifts and cards that Lacey Ward received from her students.

My “volunteer work” turned into working in an English classroom with a first year teacher from Teach for America all day, three days a week as opposed to a few hours in the morning. I fell in love with learning about teaching, learning about the students, and learning about the city through both of those. Next thing I know, I’m volunteering 24 hours a week on top a full course load at Temple University. But the support I received from MCPC staff was incredible, and I knew that I absolutely enjoyed what I was doing at that school. I became close with many of the students as I was a regular face in the classroom…and was often teaching in the front of the room. The things I learned about Philadelphia were mostly from the students I worked with every week.

How did this time shape and strengthen your faith?

Bonanni: I really enjoyed the churches of Philadelphia. At MCPC, I took a theology class and one of the assignments was to attend several different types of churches in the city. I learned a lot through this experience. I learned that I love many urban churches because of their diversity. Living outside of the Messiah [main campus] bubble really forced me to work on my relationship with God. I was challenged to be fully accountable in my faith.

In my physics class at Temple, I had a lab partner who was Muslim. I was able to have a few discussions about my faith with her. This experience helped me to realize what I am able to offer in terms of sharing my faith. In order to be fully prepared to answer her questions, I realized that I needed to spend more time in the Word.

Ward: Having this experience helped me see the many ways God works through situations or how we can be utilized in such diverse experiences. For a while, I struggled with how to use my faith in a public school without breaking school district policy, but the challenge changed the way I viewed what it meant to use my faith in certain situations. I learned it doesn’t always mean to use the name of Christ or labeling myself as a Christian directly to the people I’m working with, but rather the mentality I have and the way I use my beliefs in difficult circumstances can reflect the Christian values I hold.

What led you to apply for the PTF program and what was the hardest thing about the application/interview process? Were you able to support one another?

Bonanni: The interview day for PTF was fairly difficult. I felt relieved when I walked in because I immediately saw Lacey and sat down with her. Seeing her and being able to talk to her was a great relief. We’ve known each other since freshman year and we lived on the same floor two years in a row. We spent a semester in Philly together.

I think that the hardest part about the interview process was the one-on-one interview. I wanted to make sure that I communicated all that I was capable of to my interviewer. I wanted him to see that I was qualified and at the same time down-to-earth. I wanted to show him that I have adequate skills to work with the children of Philadelphia and that I truly cared about the program.

Since being accepted, it’s been great to know that Lacey is in the program and that I can call her to ask her questions. I know that we will be able to lean on each other throughout our time in Philly.

Ward: Amanda and I found out just weeks prior that we were both applying to the same program and would be at the same Interview Day. We did not plan it whatsoever, but seeing a familiar face in the room—going through similar fears and anxieties—was relieving. We eventually were broken off into smaller groups of 8-12 applicants which meant we didn’t see each other most of the day, but during breaks we were able to support each other and calm one another down before certain parts of the day (especially during the 30-minute interview).

Personally, the most difficult part of the day was the five minute lesson plan that was presented to the small group of co-applicants and two interviewers. This was the very first thing that was done, so getting to know everyone in the room was not an option. When I finished I felt confident in the lesson I gave, but the initial shock (of it being the very first activity of the day) is what got to most people.

What can you share to encourage other students who might be thinking about teaching in high-need school programs?

Bonanni: Truthfully, I think that working in a high-need school will be the most challenging years of my life, but I cannot wait to start. I know that during this time I will be challenged daily. I am positive that my relationship with Christ will be strengthened because I will have to rely on Him every day. I feel truly blessed to have this experience and I view it as a mission opportunity. I want to better the lives of children in Philadelphia because that’s where God has called me. I’m excited about getting closer to Him through this chapter of my life.

Ward: I only encourage doing so if you have the heart and the patience for it. While I would love to see everyone jump at the opportunity, I don’t believe it does a teacher or the students any good if you’re not willing to work your hardest and recognize the challenges that will face you. I learned in the year volunteering at the high school that students know exactly when you’re not excited or willing to be there, and if you’re not excited, you can’t expect them to be eager to learn in return.

To Learn More:

Messiah College Philadelphia Campus

Philadelphia Teaching Fellows

Teach for America

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