Vernon Burden ’05 grew up in Detroit, Michigan and attended a high school of about 1,800 students. Coming from a big high school, some might think that Burden would want to enroll in a big state university; however, that was not the case. One of his deciding factors in choosing the University of Findlay was actually the small school atmosphere and close-knit community.
Currently assistant principal at Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology in Southfield, Michigan, Burden actually started his education career as a mathematics teacher soon after graduating with his Bachelor of Arts in Adult and Young Adult Mathematics Education from University of Findlay in 2005. Many teachers heavily influenced him throughout his life, including his mother. “I always wanted to go back to my high school and give students the same experiences I had,” he said.
Positive influences continued to be a theme for Burden well into his college career at University of Findlay, from football coaches to faculty and education field supervisors. In fact, it was his education field supervisor, Connie Leatherman, who he credits as being his “campus mom”. “She always made sure I got the most out of my experience and followed up with me as much as possible to offer assistance and guidance,” said Burden. The schools where he was placed were much different than his own, so Leatherman’s assistance and guidance were essential.
He had the opportunity to take field placements in two different small county schools whose combined enrollment wasn’t even half the size of Burden’s high school. “I’m a Detroit kid who went to a high school of about 1,800 students. Arcadia and Carey combined had maybe 400 students. That’s the size of my graduating class! Also there aren’t many farms or farmers near where I grew up, so working at a school in such a rural area was a big culture change for me. I needed those experiences to see how the issues and values in urban schools are the same as those in rural communities. It shined a light on types of schools I was not accustomed to,” Burden explained.
The University of Findlay’s College of Education provides multiple field experiences for education students beginning in their first year and continuing throughout all four years with one-on-one field supervisor mentoring. Students have the opportunity to be placed in rural and urban settings and with different types of students, including domestic and international students and students with disabilities, to help prepare them for nearly any type of classroom after graduation.
Now as assistant principal, Burden has started an evaluation rubric called “Skills 4 Success”, which assesses students in four areas: attendance/punctuality, personal accountability, communication, and collaboration. This rubric gives a 1-4 rating on the student’s ability to function in the work world and then the counselors meet with the students to review their scores. The scores are then communicated with local businesses and can be used during their hiring process.
Even though Burden’s current position is assistant principal, he still goes into a classroom every now and then just to get his “fix of teaching.” When asked how he feels his experience at University of Findlay helped prepare him for his career in education he simply replied, “Without it, I couldn’t do what I do now. Attending UF was the best choice ever. I have many lifelong friends from all over and I have a degree that has value and propelled me into the career I am in now.”