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Role reversal: students teach at Wheeler

On a Wednesday morning at the Wheeler School, two high school juniors read aloud from "The Aeneid" as part of their Advanced Placement Latin class.

"Careful with your 'oohs' and 'aahs,'" says their teacher. Later that day, the same teacher heads to Brown for her own classes - Lana Robinson-Sum '10 is not only a Latin teacher at Wheeler. She is also a Brown student.

"It's nice because it's not this forty-year-old teaching the class," said Sophie Whitin, a student in Robinson-Sum's Latin class. "It's more laid back, but we still get a lot of work done."

The benefits of the teaching arrangement seem to be mutual. "(The students) are very talented and hard-working," said Robinson-Sum, a Latin concentrator. "I'm learning as much from them as they're learning from me ... it's fun helping them see what's so amazing about the academic subject that I'm passionate about."

There are approximately 40 Brown students who currently teach at Wheeler, said Mark Harris '70, director of an enrichment program at Wheeler. Harris, who has been at Wheeler for 36 years, said he has spent most of his time with the school developing an enrichment program for students in first through twelfth grade. Many Brown students have been involved with the program over the years, working as teachers, chess coaches and assistant coaches for sports teams, Harris said.

"The proximity is what makes it so easy," he said.

All students who work under Harris are compensated monetarily, Harris said. "I found there's a big difference between what you can ask from someone who's volunteering and someone who works," he said. "If somebody's being paid, it's something you can put on your resume."

Other Brown students teaching at Wheeler echo Robinson-Sum's sentiments. Chintan Patel '08 MD'12 has taught at Wheeler all four years he has been at Brown, teaching classes on topics ranging from India to cricket.

"It's cool because I've been there since freshman year ... I've seen (students) grow up," Patel said. "Being on a college campus, that's one thing we never see - children around. When you're there, you're surrounded by kids. It's really cool to see them having fun."

Patel said though the kids enjoyed his newspaper-writing and paper-airplane classes, he thinks he has gotten the best reception for his class on India, where he lived for three years as a child. He often uses "little cartoon stories" to illustrate the class's main concepts, which include "everything from history to independence."

The classes Patel has taught were held during the lower and middle schools' elective times, which happen twice a week in the afternoons, he said.

Another Brown student who works with lower and middle school students, Dan Lurie '11, co-teaches the third to fifth grade chorus with Julia Goldner '11. "We're given what we have to teach. We're not meant to design a curriculum," Lurie said. Still, "I get to try being responsible for once. ... I'm actually teaching (the students) how to do something."

All three students interviewed by The Herald found out about the opportunity at Wheeler through personal connections. "My friend's sister had done it in the past, so I contacted the director," Robinson-Sum said, adding that the school was looking for Latin teachers at the time.

Robinson-Sum said she worked for Brown University Dining Services before she started teaching Latin at Wheeler. "This is like a step up," she said.

Lurie said he was looking for a job, but knew he definitely did not want to work for BuDS. The job at Wheeler plays to his strengths, he said. "I'm helping them sing, dance and act. It's just like what I did in high school," he said.

Harris also said he is proud of his work in introducing college students to teaching. While many students discover their passion for teaching, others decide teaching, especially teaching younger children, is not their calling, he said.

"I'm interested in aspects of teaching college ... (but) I don't think I'll ever teach elementary school kids," Lurie said of his plans for the future.

Robinson-Sum, on the other hand, said she will probably continue teaching as a career. She began taking education classes this year, she said. "(Teaching is) like the only thing I'm considering right now," she said. "I feel like (teaching at Wheeler) is a really good opportunity for people who want to be teachers to try it out."


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