A partnership between the University of Central Florida and Volusia County Schools is turning the traditional education internship model upside down,  setting future educators up for success while improving student achievement.

Rather than relying on a traditional internship where education students observe classroom teachers and then take over for periods of time, mentors and candidates co-teach, sharing classrooms at Friendship Elementary, a Title I school in Deltona.

“It can be challenging for new teachers to lead a classroom, so we created a new model of internship so that students can work through some of the uncertainties with mentoring and support,” said Victoria Cardullo, a UCF reading instructor and the partnership’s site coordinator. “We’ve created a setting for our teacher-candidates that provides a rich, diverse teaching and learning experience.”

The partnership this month earned the Award for Exemplary Professional Development School Achievement from the National Association for Professional Development Schools, which advocates for collaborative school-university partnerships across the country.

For Friendship Elementary, the co-teaching model is ideal for the high-needs population—about 77 percent of the PreK-5 students are on free or reduced lunch. With two teachers in classrooms, there are more opportunities to intervene and enrich students.

The greater presence of adults is also a positive influence for the young students, said Danielle Earnest, who spent a year co-teaching kindergartners at Friendship Elementary. Earnest graduated from UCF in December and now teaches 9th- and 10th-grade reading at University High School in Orange City.

“Even though there’s a gap between who my students are, I feel so well-prepared. Since I was able to be fully immersed in the program at Friendship, I got all the training that teachers got,” Earnest said. “When I got to University, there was a lot that I didn’t have to think twice about.”

To really prepare students to manage classrooms, they need to have “real world” experience that immerses them in the culture of schools and the everyday workings of the classroom, the professional development partners said. That’s why, in addition to teaching, UCF students are involved with everything from dismissal and behavior monitoring to small-group strategy meetings and parent-teacher conferences.

“My co-teacher and I bonded really well. She was more experienced, and I brought in fresh ideas,” said Earnest. “I was also able to bond with students and parents and build a rapport with them.”

The Friendship Elementary partnership also has expanded opportunities for classroom experience for early field learners, education students who can work one-on-one with students and share findings with classroom teachers and parents. Traditionally, these activities don’t typically happen until internships.

“Accountability has become so important to what we do, and by giving new teachers the tools and experience to feel confident, we’re ultimately improving student achievement and teacher retention,” Cardullo said.