By Katherine Duke ’05
The first day of school always brings a case of nerves, but when Sandy Klanfer ’09 found himself in front of the classroom, teaching New York City high school students about the Ming Dynasty, he was especially anxious. “I wasn’t quite sure whether the kids liked it, whether they’d gotten what I’d wanted them to get out of it,” he says of his first lesson. “But some of them came up to me after class and thanked me.”
Klanfer spent three weeks in January teaching global history to students not much younger than himself at the High School for Hospitality Management in Manhattan. He was part of this year’s Urban Education Internship Program, which during Interterm sent 25 Amherst students to 13 New York City public schools. The program was initiated years ago by Williams College and the Foundation for Educational Schools; Amherst’s participation began in 2002 and is now fully funded by the Argosy Foundation. (The Community Outreach office at Amherst sponsors a similar Interterm endeavor—the Winternship program—in which students work at nonprofit organizations in New York City and Washington, D.C.)
“New York City schools are the best urban public schools in the country, far and away,” says Barry O’Connell, professor of English and faculty coordinator of the Urban Education program for Amherst. He worked with Bekki Lee, assistant director of the Career Center and associate dean of students, to place this year’s interns in schools with experimental approaches.
“I almost worry that I was spoiled, because I ended up in such a great school with such great teachers and such great kids,” says Klanfer. Still, he caught a glimpse of the problems that many public schools face: his school literally ran out of paper while he was there, and students had to share old textbooks—there weren’t enough for everyone to take one home.
Daniel Edelman ’09 worked one-on-one with first-graders, most from low-income backgrounds, at Amistad, a dual-language immersion school in Manhattan. He says it was a particular struggle to get through to children with severe learning disabilities.
This year, all but one placement school had Amherst alumni on the faculty or administration. Travis Bristol ’03, for example, supervised two interns in his English classroom at Manhattan/Hunter College High School for Science. Kate Sussman ’93, director of professional development, curriculum and instruction at the Opportunity Charter School in Harlem, and Helen Dole ’04, a materials science teacher at the School for Democracy and Leadership in Brooklyn, also worked with Amherst interns, and applauded the college’s increasing efforts to help prepare students for leadership in public education.
When they weren’t teaching, interns attended dinner meetings, including one with New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein. They also compared notes with interns from Williams, Middlebury and Smith colleges.
For many, the hardest part of the job was saying goodbye. “Just as you’re getting to really know these kids,” says Klanfer, who is considering a career as a teacher, “you have to leave.”