Big Shoulders Fund partners with Purdue University Northwest to help train a new generation of educators

Big Shoulders Fund partners with Purdue University Northwest to help train a new generation of educators

Everyone deserves a quality education. That idea is central to Big Shoulders Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting private Catholic schools in Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Oftentimes, that means giving students the opportunity to attend those schools through scholarships or by providing support and programming for the schools directly.

This school year, Big Shoulders Fund started working to address one of the most complicated problems facing America – the teacher shortage. Through a partnership with Purdue University Northwest (PNW), Big Shoulders Fund is sending aspiring young teachers studying at the PNW School of Education and Counseling into the classrooms of the Region’s Catholic schools.

“Our motivation is to help these students and to build a pipeline of talent for Catholic schools in the future,” said Dan Kozlowski, regional director for Big Shoulders Fund’s Northwest Indiana Initiative. “There’s a teacher shortage around the country right now, and we want to do everything we can to be creative in our approach to generating top talent right out of college.”

There are two opportunities available for PNW students. The first is simply shadowing a teacher a couple of times a week through a semester, culminating in doing some classroom teaching. The second is longer term: spending the entire year working with a host teacher, using the co-teaching model to student teach.

“Partnering with Big Shoulders Fund this year has allowed our educator candidates to be in classrooms, working side-by-side with excellent educators,” said Mary Jane Eisenhauer, interim associate director for the PNW School of Education and Counseling. “Their partner schools elevate best practices such as small class sizes, developing relationships with children and families, educating the whole child, and supporting learners in all academic areas.”

The feedback from students who have entered the program is highly positive. Many student teachers had been concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic would prevent them from getting in-person experience.

“Since this partnership has been going on, our schools have been open 100% of the time,” Kozlowski said. “It’s giving these students the opportunity to get out into classrooms versus the virtual environment that many public schools have been in for most of the year.”

Once they get into the classrooms, the student teachers are leaving with glowing reviews.

“Our future educators have commented about the welcoming environments, small class sizes, standards-based curriculum, and classroom experience,” said Julie Remschneider, field experience coordinator at PNW. “The partnership with Big Shoulders has broadened their worldview about schools, teaching, and learning.”

Kozlowski noted that PNW’s eagerness to work with them on creating such unique programming was remarkable.

“We’ve been really excited by their cooperation and enthusiasm,” he said. “PNW has embraced the opportunity to work with schools in our network located in the Catholic Diocese of Gary. They know that the true mission is helping kids at all levels, including those at the collegiate level looking for the experience they need to go out and be strong teachers.”

Remschneider agreed that exposing PNW students to all kinds of different methods of education helps build a better-rounded educator.

“Working with these partner schools highlights the importance of serving communities across Northwest Indiana,” Remschneider said. “We know that learning takes place in multiple environments and it is helpful for our candidates to have a variety of placements in different sites.”

The collaboration between Big Shoulders Fund and Purdue Northwest is a showcase of the potential Northwest Indiana has to create unique solutions to systemic problems.

“As a premier metropolitan university, working with all members of our community is integral to the experiences that are offered to future educators,” said Anne Gregory, director of the School of Education and Counseling at PNW. “Our work with Big Shoulders Fund has offered us opportunities to work with communities in ways that did not exist before this year. We are so appreciative.”

To learn more about Big Shoulders Fund, visit https://bigshouldersfund.org/.