First bell for partnership school

By Nina Gougis

Setting up kindergarten classrooms, wearing brightly colored fireman hats and taking care of 25 children may not seem fun to everyone, but NIU junior Nina Castaldo has wanted to become a teacher her whole life.

Castaldo is one of the first NIU junior and senior elementary education students to assist teachers at the NIU and DeKalb School District 428 partnership school.

Wright Elementary, formerly Malta High School, was dedicated Thursday in a ceremony attended by NIU President John Peters, DeKalb School District Superintendent Paul Beilfuss, Wright Principal Scott Kubelka and State Senator Brad Burzynski.

As part of the venture, the NIU students will spend two months in the classroom to fulfill their clinical experience requirement. In addition, two NIU professors will teach education courses at Wright.

Susan L’Allier, an assistant professor of literacy education, said she thinks having students work in the classroom will help them gain more “hands-on” experience.

“This way, students have the opportunity to practice what they learn in class in an educational setting,” L’Allier said.

L’Allier said the program will be beneficial to elementary education professors who have not been in the classroom for a long time.

“It brings us back to practice and lets us see what’s going on in today’s classrooms,” L’Allier said.

Beilfuss said he thinks the joint venture will serve as a national model for university and K-12 joint ventures.

In addition to the NIU program, the K-5 school will use more advanced technology than most high schools, including two computers in each classroom and mobile wireless laptop carts.

The school will implement a revised version of the district’s current curriculum and place more emphasis on fine arts and technology. The school also will provide after-school clubs and mini classes – including yearbook, author studies and reading methods classes.

Kateri Schimbke, a Wright 2nd grade teacher, said she hopes the school – with its advanced technology and innovative teaching methods – will serve as a beacon for the rest of the nation.

“We’re using the same curriculum as the rest of the school district and implementing it with the fine arts in hopes that everyone else will want to do it,” Schimbke said.

DeKalb resident Zimbawe Armstrong said she was eager to register her 10-year-old son, Jermaine, at the new partnership school.

“With NIU students participating, students can get the extra help that they may need to get ahead,” Armstrong said.