Michelle Acker and Erin Morales Develop an Innovative San Marcos High School-El Camino Elementary School Collaboration

Michelle Acker and Erin Morales

Michelle Acker and Erin Morales, graduates of the Teacher Education Program (TEP), have developed an innovative collaboration to help teach their students. Acker, who teaches Senior English within the Special Education Department at San Marcos High School, and Morales, who teaches 6th grade at El Camino Elementary School, created a Big Buddy/Little Buddy system for their students.

Ann Lippincott, Associate Director of TEP, says, “The Teacher Education Program at UCSB values, encourages, and models professional collaboration. Michelle and Erin have taken this principle to a new level whereby K-12 students can also learn the value of working together, develop social skills, and celebrate the richness of sharing different perspectives. We are inviting Erin and Michelle to share their innovative work with current credential candidates.”

All of Acker’s students have Individualized Education Programs (IEP) – the written document developed for each public school child who’s eligible for special education – and either have learning disabilities, Asperger’s Syndrome, other health impairments, or severe emotional disorders. They struggle with reading, writing, and their motivation, while also suffering from low self-esteem.

To help these students discover that their learning has meaning, she contacted Erin Morales and together the Gevirtz School alumnae developed a plan. Their classes spent time writing letters back and forth; Morales’ students worked on how to write a letter and use proper form, while Acker’s students worked on what it means to be a mentor and an example for younger students. The teaching partnership culminated in a “field trip” on which Acker’s students walked to El Camino to meet their little buddies. The students interviewed each other, formed teams to do a skit complete with props, and then had a chance to play outside. Acker says, “This was certainly the highlight of my year. It was a privilege to watch my high school students take ownership as they interacted and cared for their little buddies. For many of them this was the first time anyone has ever looked up to or respected them and they loved it!” Morales concurs, claiming, “It was such a powerful experience to watch my sixth graders transform into motivated writers each week as we received letters from our high school buddies. More importantly, they were inspired to write about their lives, and were eager to learn about the similarities and differences they had with each other. It’s amazing what young children are capable of writing when they are interested in the topic!”

(Photo by Sylvia Fernandez and courtesy the Goleta Valley Voice)