Newark eighth-graders get the royal treatment: seven future social studies teachers to dote on them.
By Mary Jo Patterson
The air outside was cool and crisp, but inside Newark’s Oliver Street School, where seven students from Drew’s Master of Arts in Teaching program were leading an eighth-grade oral history project on Iraq War veterans, the atmosphere was warm. Superheated, even. The kids rattled off questions, going straight to the heart of things. And the four veterans there did not shrink from the truth.
Were the instructors at boot camp mean?, one eighth-grader asked fighter pilot Mark Mitchell, a Marine deployed to Iraq twice. (Not mean, but very stern.) Did you lose any close friends? (Yes.) Did you carry a gun? (A loaded 9 mm pistol.) Were you afraid? (Definitely, at least once a day.)
The encounter resulted from a novel partnership between Drew’s MAT program and the Newark school, a fixture in the city’s Ironbound section. The 28 eighth-graders had prepared their questions in a kind of educational hothouse environment, getting an introductory lesson on the Iraq War from their social studies teacher and then shaping the interviews with the MAT students. The kids were excited and a little nervous, for much was at stake: Their interviews would be videotaped and submitted to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. The MAT students were excited too. The project was their first chance at hands-on teaching.
Yet without input from two Drew alumni—Oliver Street School principal Havier Nazario ’98, and Carla Guerriero ’94, the school’s media specialist—the project would likely never have gotten off the ground. Nazario, a Newark native, collaborated with Linda Swerdlow, associate professor of education at Drew, in its design. As part of the process they decided to bring the eighth-graders to Drew, where they toured the campus and met faculty. “My students had a limited understanding of what ‘college life’ meant before the trip,” says Kenneth Montalbano, a social studies teacher at the Oliver Street School. They returned, he says, “excited about seeing what types of career paths they can follow.”