Schocker receives Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching
Dr. Jessica Schocker, assistant professor of social studies education and women’s studies at Penn State Berks, was one of six Penn State faculty members to receive the 2014 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award, named after Penn State’s seventh president, honors excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level.
Schocker’s teaching career began in her early twenties as a high school teacher in an urban high school. As she followed the curriculum of her eleventh grade Western Civilization textbook, a black male student asked the question that changed her career: “With all due respect, Miss, when are we going to learn about black people in here?” Schocker recalled, “I stayed up all night researching the Harlem Renaissance and rewrote my curriculum. Two weeks later, that same student was at the front of the classroom, rapping an eloquent poem he wrote about social change, that is, “renaissance,” comparing the artistic experiences of Langston Hughes and Leonardo DaVinci.”
Since then, Schocker has been committed to promoting social justice through education.
In her social studies education classes, Schocker teaches her students that as teachers, they have the power to either perpetuate structured inequalities or affect profound social change. Her classes revolve around developing social studies experiences for K-12 students that are inclusive, legitimizing the experiences of women and people of color.
Schocker regularly involves Berks students in service-learning projects with children in urban Reading elementary schools. Together with Berks Education majors and another faculty member, Schocker visits Glenside Elementary School weekly in the Spring semesters to lead third grade children in an hour-long Yoga and Taekwondo program with a twist; each week focuses on a different positive theme such as courage, respect, and community. The program was piloted in 2012 and this spring is in its third year.
“As a social studies educator, I saw this as an opportunity to teach students about culture, history, and most importantly, community, one of the concepts the National Council for the Social Studies stresses for elementary aged children,” explains Schocker. “Yoga and Taekwondo are rich with tradition, and provide a real-life example of how cultures influence one another and can bring people together in the local community and from around the world.”
Another example of a service-learning projects occurred when Schocker brought Toothpick World, an exhibit in which famous towers and landmark buildings from around the world are made out of toothpicks and glue, to the Reading Public Museum. Here, the exhibit could be enjoyed publicly by members of the community while also benefitting both students in the Reading School District and Penn State Berks students enrolled in the Childhood and Early Education degree program. Penn State Berks senior student teachers created social studies lessons for the children in their student teaching classrooms revolving around field trips to the museum to see Toothpick World. "I wanted to create an opportunity for an authentic and experiential learning opportunity, where Berks student teachers would develop thoughtful, interdisciplinary lessons for children revolving around the exhibit," said Schocker.
One of her student’s wrote, “Dr. Schocker offers multiple perspectives, new concepts and contagious positivity”