By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Horizon Middle School sixth-grade teacher Nicolle Williams meets with students needing extra help whenever she can.
She schedules sessions before classes begin in the morning, during her lunch break and after school, but there never seem to be enough hours in the day.
“That one-on-one time is critical,” Williams said. “I would love to give that to every student who needs it.”
Williams and other teachers at the Kearney middle school are getting assistance in that area thanks to a new partnership with the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Students in the Math 430 class at UNK are lending a hand by serving as tutors this semester, giving Horizon Middle School some additional helpers during the busy study sessions while allowing the future teachers to gain experience in a classroom.
Amy Nebesniak, an associate mathematics and statistics professor at UNK, has taught the course for students pursuing careers in elementary, middle school or math education the past three years. She proposed the partnership with Horizon Middle School for a couple of reasons.
“What I noticed in the last two years was pre-service teachers just didn’t have enough confidence in how to see where a student is struggling and how to ask the questions to help them,” she said.
Unlike a practicum or student teaching, the focus isn’t on developing a lesson plan or leading an entire classroom. Nebesniak wants her students to work individually with the middle schoolers to identify learning roadblocks and find ways to overcome those obstacles.
The collaboration is a win-win for the schools since bringing UNK students into the classroom to assist with math assignments eases the burden for Horizon teachers.
“It’s helping my students become better teachers and at the same time giving these middle school students more people to answer their questions,” Nebesniak said.
For Williams, it’s easy to see the benefit as she’s bouncing around a classroom filled with a dozen students in need of after-school assistance.
“It gets really crazy,” she said.
Kaylea Watson, a junior from Arapahoe, was one of the UNK students helping out during a recent study hall period.
Watson, who was walking seventh-grader Avery Lopez through a probability worksheet, said spending time at Horizon Middle School gives her an opportunity to develop her own teaching style in a real-world setting.
“I get to come here and implement what I’m learning and see what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.
The middle school education and K-6 physical education major wants to teach either PE or middle school math and coach at a smaller school after graduating from UNK.
This experience, she said, is a beneficial step before student teaching begins.
“It has definitely given me a huge insight into how a middle school works,” Watson said.
Nebesniak said the feedback from participating UNK students has been positive.
“They’ve really enjoyed the experience of just interacting with middle school kids,” she said, noting that keeping middle schoolers engaged and on task is a lesson on its own.
Braelyn Verba, a UNK senior from Grand Island with a double major in early childhood inclusive and elementary education and minor in elementary math education, has only made a couple of visits to Horizon Middle School, but that was enough to get her thinking in new ways.
When a student is struggling with a specific concept, she said, it’s up to her to adapt.
“It might make sense to me and to half the other students, but if it’s not making sense to that one student I’ve got to find a different way to explain it,” said Verba, who wants to teach either kindergarten or fifth grade after graduating.
There are currently 12 students in the Math 430 class at UNK, but that number should increase next year when secondary math education majors are added to the mix.
At Horizon Middle School, where the student enrollment continues to grow, they’ll take all the extra help they can get.
“It’s not a question,” Williams said.
Writer: Tyler Ellyson, writing specialist, UNK News, 308.865.8529, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Amy Nebesniak, UNK associate math professor, 308.865.8643, email@example.com