Monroe College’s “Little Mustangs Academy” Grants Pre-Service Students a Unique Opportunity to Teach and Tutor Remotely

As the pandemic hit in winter 2020, the School of Education at Monroe College was faced with a unique dilemma. With partner schools switching to remote learning, they needed to find a way to provide experiential learning to students in the Early Childhood Education program to meet their licensing requirements and best prepare for career readiness and success.

Hence, the Little Mustangs Academy was born.

It’s a wonderful, free program offered at Monroe that serves two purposes. First, it helps students preparing for careers in early childhood education gain important experience working with young students. Second, as the program is only open to Monroe students who are parents of young children, it helps relieve some of the pressure that other students were feeling to help their own children succeed in the remote environment while keeping up with their own studies.

The program, which started this winter, is available to children in pre-K, kindergarten, first grade, or second grade, which aligns with the School of Education’s Early Childhood Education program. Monroe students eager to participate in the program signed up at the start of the current semesters. School of Education Dean Anne Lillis, as well as Professors Johanna Tramantano and Susanne Metscher, worked to carefully pair student-teachers with the enrolled young children. The Little Mustangs Academy tutors were also matched with a fellow student further progressed in the Early Childhood Education program who acts as a mentor, helps plan lessons, and supports the tutor during the sessions by giving feedback and modeling best teaching practices.  


“We are thrilled with the success of the Little Mustangs Academy,” said Dean Lillis. “Our pre-service teachers are getting invaluable experience working with young students, and the children themselves are really enjoying it.”

She added:  “We’ve worked incredibly hard to ensure that our students stay on track with their education throughout the pandemic, providing everything from technology assistance to groceries for those whose families were struggling to keep food on the table after jobs were lost when COVID struck. The Academy is just one of many innovative programs we’ve developed to help our students stay well and be successful  in this challenging environment.”

Bronx-resident Selena Ali is one of the Little Mustang Academy’s tutors. She came to Monroe looking to change careers after four years in the healthcare field and was drawn to teaching. 

“Once I entered the classroom, I knew this was where I belonged,” she said.

Selena credits Monroe’s innovative Little Mustangs Academy for keeping her education on track during the global pandemic. 

“Although Monroe’s classes have been virtual, I am gaining real experience teaching through (student-teaching work with) Bronx Charter School for Excellence and the newly developed Little Mustangs Academy program. Here, I am able to apply all of the information and skills taught to me by highly experienced professors to early childhood students.”

Looking ahead, Selena is excited to enter the teaching profession, emboldened with the confidence, education, and training for long-term career success.

“I feel extremely confident in pursuing a career in the education field, utilizing all of the teaching tools and strategies I have acquired through the support from my mentors, professors, fieldwork experiences, and supplemental workshops at Monroe. I look forward to spending the rest of my life educating others and continuously learning.”

Fellow School of Education student Christina Reilly, a first-generation college student also from the Bronx, similarly gives the Little Mustangs Academy high marks for providing much-needed experiential learning during the global pandemic. 

Christina came to Monroe to play basketball for its new Division III sports program, the Express. While the College has long-offered a Division I “Monroe Mustangs” program on the New Rochelle campus, it created the Division III program for student-athletes who sought the opportunity for competitive collegiate play but perhaps did not want the training commitment or program intensity of participating at the Division 1 level. The two athletic programs field more than 30 varsity and junior varsity teams across more than one dozen sports, as well as men's and women's rugby club programs, the marching band, and the newly added Esports program.

“With the support from my mother, professors, and peers, I have been able to steadily focus on my dream of becoming a teacher,” Christina said. “It feels as though I already have one foot in the door of becoming a great teacher, especially with being granted the opportunity to be a part of the Little Mustangs Academy.”

She further noted:  “Being able to do so has allowed me to not only practice teaching strategies, but to also learn what teaching style best suits me. This program has been really great for me in breaking out of my shell and becoming more confident in myself. From here, I plan to go on and pursue my Master’s degree once I receive my Bachelor’s degree and I have hopes of opening up my own school in the future. Monroe College has allowed me to follow a path into pursuing my dreams and I am very excited to see the teacher I become in the future.” 

Professor Metscher sees the pairing of each Little Mustangs Academy tutor with a senior School of Education student as very impactful. 

"It has been incredible seeing our seniors step out of their student role and into a coaching role as they mentor our freshmen to support them in preparing engaging learning activities for our Little Mustangs," she said. 

Professor Tramantano agrees, noting the personal satisfaction of helping nurture the program from concept to implementation.

“It has been an honor to be a part of this initiative and to see the students plan and implement meaningful instructional activities to support our community's young ones."

I’m sure our Little Mustangs would agree that this is a pretty wonderful program!