Jacob Thigpen, a Western Carolina University senior from Waxhaw, thought he was a patient person. But after working as an intern at the Catamount School, WCU’s laboratory school, the health and physical education major discovered a whole new meaning of the word.
“I’ve learned patience,” Thigpen said before breaking into laughter. “At the end of the day, (the students) understand what you want. It just might not happen when you want it.”
That wasn’t the only thing Thigpen and two other interns – Demetrius Gibson and Emily Hatfield – learned during their yearlong internship teaching HPE to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in the inaugural year of the Catamount School, a collaboration between WCU and Jackson County Schools. WCU is one of eight University of North Carolina System schools that were identified by the state legislature to operate lab schools.
Dan Grube, director and associate professor of WCU’s HPE program, said he wanted to ensure that students in the university’s program became a part of the Catamount School’s physical education activities. During the fall semester, a group of WCU students, called Intern 1s, were selected to work with Nicole Kaysing, the clinical coordinator for HPE who oversees the health and physical education class at the school.
Throughout the academic year, Intern 1s have attended HPE classes at the Catamount School on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, working in groups to do lesson plans and bounce ideas off of each other. Last fall, a traditional curriculum was used in which Kaysing picked a topic and the interns devised a plan to teach that topic.
Each week, one grade level would be in a health classroom, while the other two grades participated in physical activity. “There were a lot of interns and not a lot of great direction,” Kaysing said. “We were learning every day, and we realized in the second semester it would be easier and better for the learning environment to have fewer individuals, but more consistency.
Gibson, Hatfield and Thigpen were promoted to the Intern 2 level in the spring while a new crop of Intern 1s were introduced. The Intern 2s attended the morning HPE classes every day.
“We’ve designed our program in a sense that the Intern 2s are here for consistency and as the lead teachers for their group of students,” Kaysing said.
In addition to mentoring the Intern 1s, the Intern 2s were given more responsibility, such as creating their own lesson plans. Also, during the spring semester, they decided to mix the three grade levels and give the students a choice of participating in a team sport activity, an individual sport activity or something geared more towards fitness. Every third week, all students have been participating in a health class according to their grade level.
“What we are seeing is better participation, in general,” Grube said.
The field experience the HPE interns received has been invaluable, they all agreed.
“It’s been awesome for me,” said Gibson, a senior from Whiteville. “It’s a ton of fun getting to do what we love. I’ve learned to deal with different kids and their personalities, but also how my personality can connect to theirs, and just making it easier for them and making sure they’re having fun and learning something. I’d much rather be here with them instead of in a classroom just sitting in a chair.”
With their semester completed, Hatfield believes she is more prepared to be a teacher through her experience at the Catamount School.
“I definitely have better management skills,” said Hatfield, a senior from Hendersonville, Tennessee. “There’s been challenges from different groups, but you just have to make connections and relationships with the kids and really get to know them. That’s been a big goal for me, making relationships and figuring out what they want to do and what they would like to learn.”
The school year presented many challenges, obstacles and growing pains. But it also allowed the interns to lay the groundwork for future interns to succeed.
“The first year has been a great learning experience,” Kaysing said. “I can’t wait for next year to come so we can have more organization and more set expectations so that interns and students alike here at the Catamount School really understand what is expected of them – this is how P.E. and health run – and then really work on fine tuning to make it a well-oiled machine.”