Ball State University's urban teaching program has earned national accolades for its effectiveness in supporting diversity.

The Urban Semester program, which places students majoring in education in Indianapolis urban schools, has been recognized by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) as the 2004 recipient of the Best Practice Award in Support of Diversity.

The program is a collaborative effort among Ball State's Teachers College, College of Sciences and Humanities and Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), launched in 1997. Students receive hands-on teaching experience while completing coursework infused with multicultural content for one semester during their junior or senior year.

Spending a semester immersed in an urban school setting improves students' attitudes toward multicultural teaching and learning, according to a Ball State study that generated national attention.

At the beginning of the semester, some students believed they would encounter discipline problems, potentially dangerous work environments and apathetic parents who did not care about their children's education. After the semester, their views had changed, reflected by a "highly significant" positive shift in attitudes regarding classroom diversity.

"Faculty in colleges of education must work with their colleagues in arts and sciences and the public schools as part of a commitment to working in diverse urban educational settings," said Roy Weaver, dean of Teachers College. "Given our nation's growing diversity, such intensive immersion programs will offer enlightenment to the challenges often faced by urban families."

Many education students grew up in communities with little ethnic or racial diversity. The majority of teaching positions, however, are in large, urban school districts with very diverse populations, said Nancy Melser, assistant professor of elementary education who submitted the award application with Ann Leitze, associate professor of mathematical sciences.

"We are helping our students move from their comfort zones and into areas that hold the most potential for future job openings," Melser said. "After completing the Urban Semester, one student said, ‘This is where I need to be. These students need me.' That's what the program is all about."

Receiving the AACTE award is particularly gratifying because it reflects Ball State's commitment to prepare teachers for all of Indiana's K-12 students, said Susan Johnson, associate dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities.

"The success of the program comes from the intense three-way collaboration between faculty and administrators from the College of Sciences and Humanities and Teachers College and practitioners from Indianapolis Public Schools," she said. "Beyond developing teaching skills, students who complete the program tend to carefully assess their own value systems and often dedicate themselves to making a difference in the lives of less privileged youngsters."

(NOTE TO EDITORS: For more information, contact Melser at (765) 285-8572 or Leitze at (765) 285-8648.)

By Layne Cameron, Media Relations Manager