What do you enjoy most about being a Blueprint Fellow?
Andrea Vander Kamp: I have really enjoyed getting to know the students on a more personal level. Because I see the kids in a small group every day, I have built a lot of personal relationships with my students.
I have also gained a lot of experience and beneficial feedback regarding how to teach, how to use data to drive instruction, and what an effective behavior system looks like for young kids. Although I don’t have the intention of pursuing education, I think all of these skills with benefit me in my future career plans as a speech therapist.
What is the most powerful part of the Fellows Program?
Andrea Vander Kamp: I feel a part of something that is bigger than me. It is exciting to be surrounded by people and a culture that is passionate about putting students first and providing them with tools and strategies they need to succeed.
What is the hardest part?
Andrea Vander Kamp: This job is a commitment/investment. I had no experience in education with lesson planning or instructing. At the beginning of the year, I spent a lot of time lesson planning and getting comfortable with the curriculum. There are certainly days when you put in more hours (whether it is a part of the commute, lesson planning, meetings after school, etc.) than you expect and students can be behaviorally challenging.
Why did you want to become a Fellow?
Andrea Vander Kamp: I had recently graduated from college with a degree in psychology and I was looking for a transitional job before going back to school for speech therapy. When I saw the advertisement for this job, I thought it sounded like a good option because I would gain experience working with urban kids in a small group setting and I was excited about the program’s purpose.
Tell me about the students you work with. What changes have you seen in them throughout the year?
Andrea Vander Kamp: One of the reasons I love this job so much is due to the opportunity I have had to build relationships with my students. It can be both challenging and rewarding to have them in small group instruction every day. I have already seen a lot of growth in them academically, socially, and as critical thinkers. It is exciting to observe them using strategies they use in tutoring and in the classroom. I have been impressed with how, when given the right structure and support, the kids can start to explain their own thinking, collaborate with one another, and ask probing questions. It is so rewarding when you see the kids start to feel successful.
What do you plan to do next year? How has the Fellows Program influenced that decision?
Andrea Vander Kamp: I am planning on going back to school to get my MA in speech therapy. I want to work with young kids (ages 2-6), possibly those with developmental disabilities. I knew I wanted to pursue this career before applying for the Fellows Program.
However, I feel that I have gained a very important skill set that will no doubt apply to my future career. I will definitely use what I have learned about how to use data effectively to drive how I plan for the following session as well as how powerful it can be for kids to develop a sense of ownership over their own data.
What are the other Fellows at your school like? What is it like working together?
Andrea Vander Kamp: I feel very grateful for my team here. I have sincerely enjoyed working with them on a daily basis. It was especially helpful to have a returning Fellow on our team whom I was never afraid to ask questions of. I feel very supported by all of them.
What contributions does the Fellows Program make to the school overall?
Andrea Vander Kamp: We have always been included in all school activities, whether it be the staff retreat at the beginning of the year, weekly staff meetings, field trips, or parent teacher conferences. The fourth grade teachers have expressed their gratitude for our support. The data from last year’s TCAP showed significant growth in math and some of that can be attributed to the Blueprint Fellows Program.
Would you recommend the Blueprint Fellows Program to others? Who would you recommend the program for? Why?
Andrea Vander Kamp: I would definitely recommend this program to those looking for transitional work, experience teaching, or even to teachers who are looking for an opportunity to do small group instruction for a little while. I would also recommend it to those who are flexible, passionate about making a difference and feel comfortable with being observed and receiving feedback on a regular basis.