We asked our alumni to share their stories. This is what one of our instructional coaches had to say about her experience working with VISTA teachers in the classroom:
I had a really great experience that reinforced everything I believe about the VISTA program. One story in particular emphasizes the role VISTA plays in changing the face of elementary science classes.
I was a new coach this year and did not really know what to expect. I was assigned two teachers to coach at Manassas Park Elementary School. One of them, Janice Murphy, had been teaching science for 16 years. She had a dedicated science classroom and taught five 70-minute science classes every day.
As with most good teachers, she was extremely organized and always had a well-coordinated unit with a daily plan to match. Every class I observed went off without a hitch.
During our interview session at the end of each class, she would often tell me it was the first time she had done a certain experiment or taught a lesson in a certain manner - and I was always surprised as it appeared she had been teaching these experiments/lessons several times before!
During our final interview she stated, "I couldn't be more proud of my students' progress." She explained she had a student who would write no more than his name at the beginning of the year. By her last unit, he handed in a "dissertation" on liquids, solids and solutions and insisted she read it before he left the classroom!
I understood why. When in Ms. Murphy's classroom, I saw real interest and enthusiasm in the students and no resistance to her lessons. Furthermore, I personally enjoyed her classes and learned something every time I was there.
Throughout our interviews Ms. Murphy told me she was trying very hard to incorporate the VISTA principle of hands-on science. She emphasized fresh content, telling me that she had created a new lesson for every VISTA class session and/or used a previously-created plan she had not yet implemented. Through VISTA, she had gained the confidence to try new approaches to old lesson plans. And the energy and enthusiasm in her classroom was tangible: even low-achieving students responded to the new format!
Ms. Murphy was ready for a change in teaching style after 16 years and VISTA provided the impetus for her to incorporate a new approach.
Ms. Murphy now intends to update her all her lesson plans to incorporate the VISTA philosophy.
Based on my first year's experiences with teachers like Janice Murphy, I am convinced the VISTA program could have a profound effect on science education over the "long haul."
If teachers with VISTA training become the norm in schools rather than the exception, I am certain positive change will occur.