Fifty future educators got an in-depth look at a local school district during a recent field trip. Mercer University’s Tift College of Education and Bibb County Schools partnered to host Bears in Bibb, and plans are already in the works to turn it into an annual event.
The Bibb school district and Mercer have a long-standing relationship, but Tift faculty were looking for opportunities to become more immersed in the community. This Jan. 12 event allowed students and faculty to experience some of the schools and see the diversity of the district, said Dr. Loleta Sartin, College of Education associate dean for academic affairs.
“We want them to see what Bibb County has to offer, what’s in our back yard, as we think about how to expand that long-standing relationship,” Dr. Sartin said. “It was a great day. Everyone was highly engaged.”
Freshman, sophomore and junior students in the holistic child and elementary, middle grades and secondary education programs spent the day touring six different schools: Alexander II Magnet School, Springdale Elementary, Heritage Elementary, Miller Middle, Northeast High, and Hutchings College and Career Academy, where students can receive training and certification for high-demand career pathways.
The Bears were put in groups with members of other cohorts, allowing them to spend time with peers they don’t normally see in the classroom, said Dr. Sharon Augustine, assistant dean and associate professor of education.
At Hutchings, the Mercer group ate at the on-site restaurant, Compass Rose Cafe, and heard from a panel of educators. At the other schools, the participants observed classes, saw student performances and talked with students and principals.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the education majors have had to do field placements virtually and have not had as much in-person experience. Bears in Bibb allowed them to see a variety of school settings, content areas and classrooms, Dr. Augustine said.
Morgan Goeckel, a junior secondary education major, said she has only done in-person observation in two schools so far, when under normal circumstances, she would have done four placements by now. The event opened her eyes to Bibb County’s offerings and showed her the different opportunities the district makes available to its students.
“All the schools are vastly different, but they’re working toward the same thing,” she said. “(Bears in Bibb) really showed us what to expect. No school was the same. No principal was the same. No student body was the same. No one is going to have the same experience. You can’t pick the perfect school, but each environment has different things that would be beneficial to you.”
Middle and secondary education majors observed how they could build upon what’s happening in the elementary schools, and elementary education majors saw examples of how they could engage children in deeper learning experiences early on, Dr. Sartin said. They got a sense of the trajectory children follow in their schooling and what comes before and after the levels they will be teaching, Dr. Augustine said. In addition, the Bibb teachers and principals talked about what they value most in an educator, impactful words for the future educators to hear from people who may one day consider hiring them.
“This was a great opportunity for Bibb County to highlight everything the district has to offer, while also allowing Mercer education students the opportunity to visit schools at each grade band and in different zones,” said Holly Huynh, coordinator of talent management acquisitions for Bibb County Schools. “The students walked away knowing more about our magnet and fine arts programs, our STEM schools and the great technology that students and teachers have access to. We look forward to many more such days in the future.”
The plan is for Bears in Bibb to become an annual event, and Tift faculty are thinking about how they can diversify the experience for the future, Dr. Sartin said.
“We’ll always have a close relationship with Bibb County. It’s events like this that we hope will continue to foster that relationship,” Dr. Augustine said.