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Program Puts Future Teachers on the Fast Track
Palmerino, Luzzi, Sasis, Nguyen and Selyem
Claire Palmerino, associate dean, College of Humanities and Social Science, left, talks about the university’s Streamlined Teacher Education Program with Kristin Luzzi, the center’s integrated program coordinator; Lillybeth Sasis, assistant director of the center; graduate student Nancy Nguyen; and Kate Selyem, the center’s community college relations coordinator, seated right.
Streamlined education program is helping students earn their degrees quicker.

Feb. 2, 2006
by Mimi Ko Cruz

For decades, it wasn't unusual for a Cal State Fullerton student to graduate with a bachelor's degree and a teaching credential after having completed 155 or more units of coursework.

Today, a future elementary school teacher can receive a bachelor's degree and complete work toward a credential with as little as 135 units by going through the university's Streamlined Teacher Education Program (STEP).

Students who wish to earn a credential to teach special education or to earn the elementary and education specialist credentials may do so through this program as well. Those striving for the education specialist credential will earn more than 135 units, but not nearly as many as required by the traditional post-baccalaureate credential program, said Claire Palmerino, newly named associate dean in the College of Humanities and Social Science.

Palmerino has received a $192,840 grant from "Milestones Along the Path," a U.S. Department of Education-funded program to encourage Hispanic students to enter education as a career goal. The grant award will be used to support, promote and administer the campus program, which is in its second year.

The STEP program consists of three phases:
• Pre-STEP, where students must complete lower-division, general education requirements; declare a major from one of the STEP major options; earn at least a 2.5 grade-point-average; pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST); complete an early field experience requirement; and submit an application for Phase II.

• STEP admission in the sophomore year, completion of prerequisites for the credential program and continued work on major coursework and classroom field experience.

• STEP-Credential during which students must earn a 2.75 or higher cumulative grade-point-average and pass all three subtests of the California Subject Examination for Teachers, as well as the Examination on Writing Proficiency. During this phase, students also undergo fingerprint and background checks and take a tuberculosis test.

Students who complete 15 units each fall and spring semester and an additional six units during the summer can finish the program in four years. However, Palmerino anticipates that most students will complete the program in four-and-a-half to five years.

A single-subject STEP for future high school English teachers has been implemented, and STEP for future high school math, social science and science teachers is being devised, Palmerino said.

There are more than 400 students in STEP with the first class of participants set to receive their degrees and credentials in 2007.

Kristin Luzzi, coordinator of the multiple subject/special education STEP, keeps tabs on students' progress, conducts group advisement sessions and follows up with e-mails or calls to participants to remind them of required courses. Luzzi also informs STEP students about upcoming events, seminars and tests.

Included in the grant is an effort that targets students from Santa Ana and Fullerton colleges who want to transfer to CSUF and become teachers. Kate Selyem, community college relations coordinator in the Center for Careers in Teaching, spends much of her time reaching out to these students, explaining the undergraduate teacher-preparation programs and what to expect upon transfer. Selyem also connects with community college counselors to inform them about the university's programs, including STEP, so they can share the information with their students.

As a result of efforts supported by the grant, several community colleges either have or are developing new lower-division courses to assist students in transferring with the most efficient set of classes in preparation for the teaching profession, Palmerino said. Included are introductions to elementary teaching and secondary teaching, technology and secondary education, science and language development courses.

In addition, there are "mentor mixers" for community college students who plan to transfer to CSUF to pursue a teaching credential. The mixers help students become familiar with the campus.

“The purpose is to help students establish networks that will make the transition to Cal State Fullerton smoother,” Palmerino said.

“It's really exciting,” added Luzzi, who also helps students get involved in campus organizations, such as the Student California Teachers Association, which hosts annual conferences on the teaching profession.

STEP also sponsors meet-the-faculty sessions so that freshmen and transfer students can get to know the professors who will be teaching them.

“Students in STEP enjoy the benefits of comprehensive advising, social connections with other students planning to be teachers, and curriculum designed to develop their expertise in the subjects they will teach,” Palmerino said.

STEP is the sequel to the Blended Teacher Education Program (BTEP) that is being phased out, Palmerino said.

“BTEP enrollment never went beyond 60 students in a freshman cohort while we had almost 200 students in our first freshman cohort for STEP,” she said.

“Students in BTEP were required to progress through the program at a fast pace and in a lockstep fashion in order to finish the bachelor's degree and credential in four academic years. Students in STEP are free to advance according to their own pace. So while it is possible for students to complete the entire program in four years, it is not necessarily recommended that they do so. We value the quality of the student's educational experience in this program as much as the efficiency it provides.

“STEP is much more student friendly,” added Palmerino. “It makes a lot more sense and we're getting three times the number of students enrolling.”

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