A network of public elementary charter schools with the mission to cultivate exceptional educators dedicated to raising student achievement, the non-profit Rocketship Public Schools also cooperates with parents in enabling these schools to succeed in their communities and provide high-quality education.
The Rocketship Program Develops Educators
Emma Volpe is an English Learner Specialist at Rocketship United Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, where there is a broad mix of ethnic groups. From her colleagues, she learned of the Rocketship Education program that grants teachers who have three or more years of instructional experience with 1000 dollars toward participating in a professional development program of their choice. Ms. Volpe, who wanted to do more than attending a conference or lecture, decided that she would become a student. Since she is an English teacher in a school with many Spanish-speaking students, Ms. Volpe chose to learn Spanish so that she could experience the process of learning a new language just as her students were doing as they struggled to speak and write English.
Since many of her students are from Mexico and Central America, Ms. Volpe decided to travel to Antigua, Guatemala, where she entered an immersion program in which she lived with a host family and had to take public transportation and find her way by speaking Spanish. With her only experience of Spanish being a course in high school, Ms. Volpe was slightly intimated by her new venture, but she realized that this discomfiture was the same as that experienced by her students who came to the Nashville school knowing very little English.
Ms. Volpe’s Meaningful Experiences Help Students
On her first day of class, Ms. Volpe was given a placement test to determine at what level she would begin. As she took the exam, Ms. Volpe practiced the test-taking skills she has tried to instill in her students, skills such as the process of elimination, finding context clues and identifying keywords. Because she successfully utilized these skills on her test, Ms. Volpe placed in a pre-intermediate class. She was elated to do better than she had expected, and she was also excited about being able to tell her students that her test-taking methods do work.
While her week of Spanish instruction and practice did not generate a marked difference in her Spanish language skills, it did much to improve her understanding of her students’ lives, their families and their culture. The trip to Guatemala also exposed her to a culture that knows that people need time to slow down and relax. Ms. Volpe appreciated having this break from the stress of her usual duties and was grateful to the Rocketship Education program for allowing her to travel and experience another culture. She returned to Nashville’s Rocketship United Academy refreshed and renewed in her commitment to her students. Now, with a better understanding of her students’ cultural backgrounds from having been a student herself in the environment from which they have come, Ms. Volpe can genuinely instill in her students a love for knowledge and growth as a person. She also can teach her students from her example of learning Spanish in Central America that “life is more than a job or work and you never stop growing or learning if you allow yourself to be stretched.” Part of the mission of Rocketship Education is to “propel student achievement” and “develop exceptional educators” has been achieved by Ms. Volpe’s learning and experiences in Guatemala. She is, indeed, grateful to the Rocketship Education program that has allowed her to develop as an educator.