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Building bridges between teachers, aspiring educators

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Winona, Minnesota has often been a place of firsts in education.

Winona State University aspiring educators showed Winona Education Association members around their new Education Village buildings on campus, including Donna J. Helble Hall (pictured here) which was named after a former Winona teacher and professor who donated money to create this learning community.

The idea for a statewide teachers association was born there. Winona State University was the first teaching college west of the Mississippi. And now, the Winona Education Association and Winona State University Aspiring Educators are starting a new first—a three-part fellowship to connect current teachers with college students studying to be teachers.

“We have student teaching and field experience,” said Alisa Becker-Dunn, chapter president of the Winona State University Aspiring Educators. “This allows us to have a connection, more one-on-one to ask advice, instead of them just observing us.”

The fellowship started the Friday of MEA weekend, Oct. 18, with dozens of Winona Education Association members heading over to Winona State for a meet-and-greet and tour of the university’s new Education Village buildings. In the winter, the college students will tour Winona middle or high school and have more opportunities to connect with teachers. Then in the spring, teachers will head back to the university for another discussion.

“The question really became, ‘Why aren’t we doing anything together?’” said WEA member Luke Merchlewitz who approached the college and Becker-Dunn about creating this partnership. “We want to welcome them into our profession.”

Winona Education Association member Luke Merchlewitz (right) welcomes current Winona Public Schools teachers and Winona State University Aspiring Educators to the first of three fellowships the two groups have planned for the year.

Becker-Dunn, as well as the Aspiring Educator chapter advisor and education professor Dr. Rhea Walker, jumped at the chance to create a community between the two groups.

“This will be a two-way street,” said Becker-Dunn. “We will get to know so much more about what this career is going to be like. This is what we have been looking for.”

More than 50 students attended the first session. The students guided the WEA members on the tour of the new Education Village buildings, broken into groups by subject area they teach or plan to teach.

“We didn’t have to talk the students into coming,” said Walker. “They really want to talk with current teachers.”

Students can receive a certificate for attending all three sessions. Walker also said there is a plan for a joint bus to attend the union’s MEA conference next fall, too. Merchlewitz also invited all of the college students to attend the WEA’s celebration during American Education Week.

As for the next fellowship session, Merchlewitz had the college students write down questions they wanted the WEA members to address.

“We want to make sure we can help with what you really need,” he said. “Every WEA member is here to help you.”

The WEA members already see how they can learn from the WSU students, too.

“On the tour, I saw they were using a projection system I just got in my classroom, so I was able to ask what software they used,” said WEA President Scott Halverson.

Halverson said the students had great questions as they toured the buildings and he hopes that this partnership will help them be successful educators and union members.

“We grouped together as math teachers and the math majors, but they instantly started asking us about how to create relationships with students and colleagues,” he said. “We’re finding our new teachers understand the need for our advocacy and they want to know more about it.”

WSU students Danielle Youngberg and Jayde Grass were grateful for the opportunity to connect with current teachers, and learn more about how a school district like Winona works.

“I knew it would be great to build these connections,” said Youngberg.

“I’m already seeing differences and similarities between the district I attended and here,” said Grass. “It’s good to learn about different districts.”

WEA member Theresa Pearson said building connections like these could be vital for the future of the profession.

“We need this, and we need it to be good,” she said.

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