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      Schools October 9, 2008  RSS feed

      Having mentors pays off for new teachers

      BY DANIELLE MEDINA Correspondent

      Aformalized orientation and mentoring program is helping Brick's schools hold on to its most valuable resource: its teachers.

      Now in its third year, the Induction and Recruitment Committee is a group of 35 staff members who help Brick's first-, second- and third-year teachers adjust to life in the profession and in the district.

      "This is professional development at its finest," said Donna Stump, a district elementary curriculum supervisor and one of the committee's two directors. "The district is committed to this program."

      Without such programs, teacher retention rates are staggering: 25 percent of teachers leave the profession after the first three years; 30 percent after five years; and in urban areas, 50 percent of teachers leave after five years, according to a study by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.

      "If there's support, 75 to 90 percent of teachers remain in the profession," said Cynthia Kinney, a district elementary curriculum supervisor and one of the committee's directors. "This program is definitely working."

      There are 16 first-year teachers, 13 secondyear teachers and 34 third-year teachers in Brick this school year, Kinney said.

      In the first year, new teachers — both those right out of college and those new to the district — participate in a five-day workshop over the summer.

      "It's about forming collegial relationships, understanding our town as a community and what we expect from our teachers," said Kinney. "It is the teachers that sustain this program."

      Throughout the year, first-year teachers also participate in four training workshops in developing time management skills, planning back to school nights, preparing report cards or dealing with cultural diversity issues.

      Second- and third-year teachers also participate in four workshops that are geared to their needs.

      "We listen to their concerns and we constantly revamp the program based on their feedback," said Stump.

      Members of the Induction and Recruitment Committee serve as facilitators, helping to organize and run the workshops.

      Each year, the team chooses a project such as developing a monthly newsletter or creating online resources for teachers.

      The mentoring program is another important segment of the Induction and Recruitment Committee.

      "For me, it was important to be a mentor because I didn't have one," said Veronica Reid, a Spanish and English as a Second Language Teacher at Brick Township High School. "As a new teacher, you're dealing with so many things they don't teach you in school — behavioral issues, parents, lesson plans. You need someone you can go to at any time."

      Reid equated being a first-year teacher in a school district to being a freshman in college.

      "As a first-year teacher, you feel alone. Everything is so new," said Reid, who has spent her entire seven-year career in Brick. "You need someone to tell you, 'We've all been there and you're going to be okay.'"

      Mentors and teachers are paired up along similar grade levels or subject areas.

      "The support is onsite," said Trudie Rebelo, principal at Midstreams Elementary School. "They're meeting on a weekly basis. There's someone there for new teachers to bounce ideas off of so they're more willing to try new things and take risks."

      Mentor Moira DiBenedetto, a seventhgrade teacher at Veterans Memorial Middle School, said she also benefits from working with first-year teachers.

      "We have the opportunity to learn from them as well. As an educator, you want to keep that part of you alive," said DiBenedetto, who has taught in Brick since 1975. "It keeps you fresh, enthusiastic and motivated."

      DiBenedetto has seen the positive impact of the program on her daughter, Faith, an English teacher at Brick Township Memorial School.

      "My daughter was thrown into a classroom in another district," said DiBenedetto. "She was overwhelmed. Now that she's here, she is thrilled in the way that Brick embraces its teachers."

      The Induction and Recruitment Committee is the heart of the Brick Township school district, said Nicole Pannucci, fifthyear special education teacher at Brick Memorial High School.

      "Through this team, people become more than your colleagues," she said. "They become your friends and your extended family. During the tough times, we pull together and pick each other up. And we celebrate the good times."

      Board of Education members recognized members of the Induction and Recruitment Committee at the Sept. 25 board meeting.