Thanks to Five-Year Program, a Childhood Dream Comes True

May 13, 2009 — "Teaching is what I always wanted to do," said Stephanie Passman, 22, a fifth-year University of Virginia student who is on track to receive two degrees this month: a bachelor's degree in Spanish from the College of Arts & Sciences and a master's in teaching, with a certification in elementary education, from the Curry School of Education.

As a child, Passman set up an easel as a blackboard and arranged her stuffed animals around it. When she was older, she worked as a babysitter and as a tutor with Head Start in Williamsburg, her hometown. "I worked with young people whenever I could," she said. "I enjoy being a role model."

As a student teacher in Albemarle County Public Schools, she taught last semester in a third-grade class in Hollymead Elementary School and this semester, she is learning how to use technology in a second-grade classroom at Woodbrook Elementary School.

"Teachers in the Charlottesville-area schools have helped shape me," she said. "It's exciting for me to give back to the community."

She has been employed with the Saturday and Summer Enrichment Program run by Curry for gifted children from around Virginia for the past three years. And in her spare time, she volunteers as a teacher's aid through Madison House's Boosters: Cavs in the Classroom program, this year helping with a first-grade class at Johnson Elementary.

"You get to see wonderful teachers and interact with kids and form relationships with them," she said. "It's never boring."

Passman said she has met students from other education schools and believes that the Curry program has given her more hands-on experience than most student teachers receive at other schools.

"My student teaching experiences were more varied, and for longer amounts of time, than students had at other institutions," she said.

The result? "I feel incredibly prepared to be a teacher," she said.

About 140 University of Virginia students graduate every year in the joint-degree program, with bachelor's degrees from the College and a master's in teaching from Curry, Curry associate professor Eleanor Wilson said. Of those, about 50 students specialize in elementary education, about 70 in secondary education or a foreign language, and 15 in special education or early childhood development, she said.

Looking ahead, Passman has already begun her job hunt for next fall. She would like to stay in Central Virginia and is looking for positions in the city of Charlottesville, and the counties of Albemarle, Madison, Greene, Fluvanna and Orange.

"I'll teach anything, anywhere in the Charlottesville area," she said. "I'm prepared and willing to teach whatever students are put in front of me."

She realizes that challenges lie ahead, but is optimistic about her ability to meet them. "I want to make the classroom a place where students will want to come and where I will want to come every day," she said.

— By Charlotte Crystal