Ask students in any teacher prep program what they most look forward to and you’re likely to hear, “Having a classroom of my own.”
CEA’s Aspiring Educators program helps prepare each new cohort for that day—and gives them a glimpse of what it will look like—with opportunities for community outreach, leadership, advocacy, professional development, and service projects that bring them right into the heart of a public school.
One of the program’s cherished traditions each fall is organizing a school beautification project—and this year, thanks to the program’s growing enrollment, the group was able to double their impact by completing projects at two schools in different parts of the state.
Pre-service teachers from programs throughout the state gathered on Saturday, November 4, at Derby High School and Montville’s Murphy Elementary for a day of camaraderie and service work aimed at uplifting teachers and students and enriching their teaching and learning environment.
“What was really exciting about this beautification event was that, due to the growth of our program, including adding new chapters, we were able to do two of them,” says CEA Training and Organizational Development Specialist Katie Grant. CEA’s Aspiring Educators program has more than doubled its membership over the last year, and funding for an additional beautification project was made possible by an NEA Aspiring Educators CREATE Grant, designed to strengthen aspiring educator programs and build strong partnerships.
Paving the way for great days
At Murphy Elementary, CEA Aspiring Educators brought color and kindness to the entrance where kindergartners and first-graders are dropped off in the morning. They filled blue and white planters with seasonal mums, painted positive affirmations including “You matter” and “Murphy rocks” on pavers, and scrubbed outdoor picnic tables so that students can use them for groupwork or snacks. They also left handwritten personal notes for every teacher in the building, thanking all of them for their hard work.
“CEA’s Aspiring Educators are paving the way for great days at Murphy,” said Montville Education Association President Jenny Natale, who joined the group for their day of service. “What a great chance to meet and work with all the AEs who volunteered their time on a Saturday and to see firsthand that the future of teaching looks bright.”
Natale, who teaches kindergarten at Murphy, was especially excited to connect with future teachers from institutions she herself attended—Mitchell College and Sacred Heart University.
“It was really neat to see AEs connecting with the active teachers,” said CEA Educational Issues Specialist Elizabeth Sked. “The energy and enthusiasm of the AEs felt like a breath of fresh air to the teachers, and the AEs appreciated the opportunity to spend time with educators who have years of classroom experience. They were asking lots of questions: ‘What was it like when you started out?’ ‘Do you have any advice for me?'”
“We had a wonderful time being creative and thinking about the students who will enjoy the results of our work,” said Nicole Pepe, Aspiring Educators chair at Eastern Connecticut State University, who plans to be an elementary school teacher. “Hopefully this brings them some joy.”
Supporting student engagement and joy
At Derby High School, CEA Aspiring Educators painted positive messages in the school restrooms, made improvements to the senior lounge, and created handwritten notes for all the district’s high school and middle school teachers.
“When I found out about this opportunity to have future educators come to Derby High School, I jumped on it,” said art teacher Sara Sicona, who planned out the projects they would undertake. “I really wanted to give Derby students something to inspire them, and the messages aspiring educators painted were reassuring and uplifting. Seeing those affirmations is so important for students, especially as they’re going through adolescence.”
“I really enjoyed going to Derby High School and helping make plaques out of students’ senior portraits for their lounge,” said Katie Brush, vice president of the Aspiring Educators Club at the University of St. Joseph. Brush, who plans to be certified in special education with a cross endorsement in elementary education, said “It was a great way to connect with Connecticut’s community of AEs and work with Derby High School’s staff to spruce up some of their spaces.”
“Attending my first CEA event was awesome,” said Cole Brown, a member of Southern Connecticut State University’s Future Teachers Organization who is studying elementary education. “I got a glimpse into the values and friendliness of this organization. I loved contributing to the community and writing inspiring messages for the students of Derby High School. Attending this event inspired my enrollment in the Aspiring Educators Program.”
“Our work at Derby was really about boosting student engagement and joy through the physical space,” said Grant. “Between painting murals and creating senior banners, resetting the senior lounge, and writing notes for all the teachers, it was about bringing joy and affirmation into the school building.”
“CEA’s Aspiring Educators were full of energy and enthusiasm and worked really well together—even tackling multiple projects simultaneously,” said Derby High School Principal Jennifer Olson. “I encouraged the group to consider Derby Public Schools when they are looking for field hours, student teaching, or their first jobs.”
“The day was so much fun, and I absolutely loved how the messages turned out,” said Sicona. “What a great group of future colleagues. I’m so pleased we have another generation of educators coming in who want to make a difference in our kids’ lives like we all do at Derby High School.”
Annual membership in CEA’s Aspiring Educators—only $25—opens the doors to amazing professional development, social and mentorship opportunities, and other critical resources and connections. Between student loans, student teaching, and edTPA, however, pre-service teachers often have tremendous financial responsibilities and few resources. Sponsor an Aspiring Educator today! Your $25 gift helps ensure a bright tomorrow for Connecticut’s public schools.