Thirty-three high school teachers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey sit in the Sky View conference room in MacAlister Hall, chatting over a light lunch. At least one Drexel faculty member is also seated at each table of eight, taking part in the conversation before more formal break-out sessions take place.
This is a sight that Paula Marantz Cohen, PhD, dean of the Pennoni Honors College and distinguished professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been waiting to see since she became dean of Pennoni four years ago.
“I am a big fan of high school teachers. My mother, my brother-in-law, my sister for a time, my daughter and my niece are or were all high school teachers,” she said while addressing the room after lunch. “I had strong feelings for my high school teachers, and as the dean here of the Pennoni Honors College, I can’t tell you how often I see students whose passion for learning or their interest in a particular subject was spurred by a particular high school teacher — someone who inspired them, who mentored them, who made them feel that it made sense to love learning. And so, I feel it’s important to bridge the divide between high school and college. We want to do this at Drexel.”
Bridging this divide between teachers of high-performing students is the focus of this new initiative by the Pennoni College and Drexel’s Admissions office, which aims to host events bringing together regional high school teachers teaching advanced placement courses and Drexel faculty.
At this first workshop, teachers and faculty broke into discussion groups to address three key topics: anxiety and failure, sensitive issues and texts and technology in the classroom. They then came together at the end to identify action items on personal, classroom and institutional levels.
From just this first event, Cohen said it was evident to both high school teachers and faculty that there was a lot to learn from each other.
“High school teachers are supposed to be teaching courses that are college-level, but don’t have contact with college teachers,” she said.
This contact, along with the opportunity to speak with teachers from different schools and disciplines, are the main benefits Cohen cited for high school teachers who sign up for these events. And it’s clear that teachers recognize this — Cohen said the first conference filled up within two hours of opening the online registration. This was even before Pennsylvania-based teachers learned that they were able to receive continuing education credit for their attendance.
“I was so pleased that there was really a hunger for this kind of connection,” Cohen said.
Teresa Sullivan, an AP and all-levels biology teacher from Hightstown High School in Hightstown, New Jersey, said speaking with Drexel faculty helped solidify that a lot of the things she’d been telling her students about college were, in fact, true: that they didn’t need to pile on AP classes for admissions or be locked into a major when they got to college.
“I try to tell my students that, but with these high-achieving students have a 10-year plan, and if anything goes wrong, they’re devastated if they can’t follow that,” Sullivan said. “I keep trying to tell them it’s not how life works, and it’s good to hear from the college level that they don’t expect the kids coming in to always have a plan and know exactly what they want to do.”
The benefits to Drexel in hosting these workshops are also abundant. For the faculty, Cohen said they can get a sense of the challenges that face students before they get to college so faculty can better help those students once they arrive.
There is also the opportunity to establish a connection between these teachers and Drexel, which can become beneficial to admissions.
“From an admissions perspective, the vision is that we are tapping into a new influencer audience,” said Jackie Hopkins, Drexel’s director of events and visitor relations. “Not in a direct marketing way, but educating teachers, especially AP teachers, on the high value of Drexel academics and the level of engagement happening in our classrooms.”
Leslie Patient, an AP language and composition teacher at Ranney School in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, said she knew about Drexel from living in the area, but had thought it was an “engineering school” prior to the conference. Now that she knows more about Drexel and Penonni, she said she’d be more likely to recommend both to high-achieving students looking for an urban college environment.
“I think for students looking at a large university, to have that small world where you’re going to have one-on-one conversations with professors, you’re going to be in with other students that are like-minded, I think it’s really exciting,” she said of the Pennoni College offerings.
Organizers agree that the first workshop was a great success, and plans are being made to host similar events once a quarter. Cohen said the event went better than planned mainly because of the high school teachers’ enthusiasm — a good sign about the future Drexel students whose minds they’re molding in their classrooms.
“It’s encouraging students to love learning,” Cohen said of a high school teacher’s most important role in preparing students for college. “We share the same goal … getting them to not see learning only as a means to an end, but also as a joy in itself. I think if we can do that, students will learn more and retain what they learn better.”
Daniel Dougherty, PhD, director of the Honors Program, and Katie Barak, PhD, associate director of the Honors Program, were also instrumental in organizing the conference. For more information about all Pennoni events, visit drexel.edu/pennoni/news-events.