Highland Park School District and Rutgers University are hitting it off these days – with both entities reaping benefits by being fully engaged with one another. In September 2016, the Community School Partnership Network initiated a collaboration between the Highland Park School District and the Urban Social Justice Teacher Education Program of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. Having served 21 student teachers and 75 pre-student teachers since its initiation, the program currently has around 20 participating graduate students at the district’s four schools-–Bartle School, High School, Irving School and Middle School.
“The Highland Park School District is one of seven school districts in the state to have such a partnership,” said Dr. Scott Taylor, superintendent of the Highland Park School District. “We help educate student teachers who come to us. These practicing teachers are getting a blend of research and practice. So it’s not just about the theory and it’s not just about the best practices; it’s a combination of the two.” As a part-time lecturer at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, Dr. Taylor witnesses how these student teachers apply what they learn through their practical experiences.
The district benefits from the resources Rutgers has to offer, said Dr. Taylor. “Rutgers faculty provides workshops for our teachers and our teachers are able to attend free conferences and workshops at the university.”
Twice a year, the school district also hosts a night conference, bringing together Rutgers graduate students and faculty to provide resources and strategies for parents to help their children succeed at school.
Stemming from the school district’s partnership with Rutgers, Conversation Café is another program in which student teachers and parents from non-English speaking backgrounds come together on multiple Saturday mornings to practice English in a safe environment, learn more about US culture and form a sense of community. “Conversation Café has been extremely well attended and has been a major asset to the many families and guardians whose children are in the school and do not speak English as their primary language,” Dr. Taylor said.
During the spring of 2017, 21 families participated in the program. “There is something very special about Conversation Café at work. The room is very noisy but the noise is all happy talk about US culture with lots of smiles. It gives the entire school community a really positive jolt,” he said
As a Highland Park resident for over 21 years and a Rutgers alumnus, Dr. Taylor is enthusiastic about Highland Park School District’s relationship with a public research university and the potential for greater collaboration between the two educational institutions in enhancing learning opportunities. “As a small school system in a very diverse community, we offer a broad range of programs that are enhanced by strong support from families and community members. The district’s relationship with Rutgers University also continues to flourish as we work together, affording a vast number of opportunities otherwise not provided by a traditional school district.”