An Ivy League Perspective on Education 

CPS teachers team up with Yale professors for professional development at a higher level

June 05, 2012

On May 23, the Chicago contingent of the Yale National Initiative celebrated its five newest members – the 2012 Chicago Yale Institute Fellows – at the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood. The newest fellows are Daniel Holder of Hancock High School, Derrick Kimbrough of Skinner North Classical School, John Miklaszewski of Henry Clay Elementary School, Anne Agostinelli of Haines Elementary School and Joseph Mitacek of Air Force Academy High School.


A professor-teacher collaborative effort, the Yale National Initiative focuses on teachers and students in high need K-12 public schools throughout the country via the creation of higher level curricula that its “fellows” – or members – take back to implement in their schools and classrooms.


The new fellows will attend their first 11-day “Intensive Session” at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., this summer. The annual seminars pair teachers with Yale professors for a merging of content knowledge and pedagogical insight.  


Andrea Kulas, a 2009 Chicago Yale Fellow and a Roberto Clemente Community Academy English teacher, said that the seminars offer a higher level of traditional professional development. “I utilize this program every year, and every year it improves my practice,” she said. “This program asks how we can do the very best for our kids to get them to college.”


Kulas added that working with the Initiative has informed her work in the classroom and with co-workers, in addition to influencing teachers she’ll never meet -- she posts units that she created through the Initiative on the Yale website ( for any educator with Internet access to draw upon.


“I make sure to tell my co-workers when I publish things and encourage them to comment on it,” she said. “I get lots of positive feedback. It’s nice to know that someone in another country thinks this is what good teaching looks like.”


Derrick Kimbrough – an eight-year CPS veteran now in his first year as a 4th grade language arts/social studies teacher at Skinner North – visited Yale for a two-day introduction session in May, and will return for the Intensive Session July 8. The annual Intensive Session will attract 75 teachers from 17 districts across nine states this year.


“When you think of Yale and you think of their professors, there’s such a high standard,” he said. “You just get a great feel from them, and they are so down to earth and helpful.”


The seed of the Yale National Initiative was planted in 1978, when New Haven public school teachers teamed up with Yale professors to create the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. The sustained success of that model, and others like it in school districts on the East Coast, led to the establishment of the Yale National Initiative in 2004, with the goal of implementing new Teachers Institutes throughout the country.  


Though the goal is to create curricula, the benefits for teachers often run much deeper, said 2007 Chicago Yale Fellow Molly Myers. “The best thing I’ve learn by working with Yale professors is how to be a teacher leader in my school and beyond,” she said.


The National Initiative has established official “satellite” Teachers Institutes for public school districts in four other cities besides New Haven: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Charlotte, N.C., and New Castle County, Del. Fellows in these cities work with professors at local universities on an ongoing basis and attend the summer Intensive Sessions in New Haven each year.


Myers, the department chair of social studies at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, said the main goal right now is to get an official Chicago Teachers Institute up and running. Chicago fellows are currently meeting with potential universities, aiming to get the Chicago Teachers Institute established by the 2013-2014 school year.


Myers said accomplishing this would provide an even broader connectivity for the Chicago Yale Fellows than exists currently, hopefully adding many more to the ranks of the existing Chicago Yale Fellows.


 “So many more teachers could experience this type of rigorous academic work and bring what they learned directly to the classroom,” she said. “For example, there’s currently no real connection between elementary schools and high schools, but if we’re all sitting in a seminar and learning together, we can better understand how to work with students at all grade levels.”


While each of the Chicago Yale Fellows has a personal take on the benefits of the Yale National Initiative, each of them seem to agree on one thing -- the work they do will mesh very well with the district-wide introduction of the Common Core State Standards next school year.


“Rigor is the big buzzword,” said Anne Agostinelli, a 2012 Chicago Yale Fellow. “Integrating the Common Core with math and science is one of the best ways to deepen what we teach our students. Lots of us are incorporating higher-level thinking, which will lead to deeper problem-solving with our students.”


Agostinelli is a 7th and 8th grade teacher at Haines Elementary School, where she has been for her seven-year career. She applied to be a fellow at the encouragement of Myers, a mentor.


She is currently teaching a unit involving the amount of energy and the effects on the environment that come from manufacturing food. Her goal is to use July’s Intensive Session to tweak the lesson and apply Common Core State Standards to it, hopefully using math to justify why people should switch to organic foods.


“This summer will help me perfect this unit that the kids are already excited about,” Agostinelli said. “I can’t wait to see exactly where I can take it.”


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