The Columns

Staying Local: Teacher Education Partnerships with area schools benefit both W&L and K-12 students

— by on August 31st, 2016

Teacher Education

“This valuable partnership allows us to open our doors and classrooms to prospective educators and pair them with the highly qualified, passionate and dedicated teachers on our staff.” — Scott Jefferies, superintendent of Lexington City Schools

It’s 7:30 a.m. at Harrington Waddell Elementary School in Lexington, Virginia, and Kim Hickman ’96 and Lucy Ortiz ’15 are sitting down to plan the day’s lessons.

For the 19 students in their fourth grade class, there will be reading, math and writing in the morning, with a break for lunch and recess, and science in the afternoon. They’ll get the students up and moving, incorporating hands-on, interactive activities. There will be individual, partner and small-group work.

“We both have equal contributions, and I have as much to learn from her as she does from me,” said Hickman, who has taught at the school for 10 years. “More and more, Lucy has been taking control of the classroom, and I’ve been stepping back to be more of her assistant teacher.”

Ortiz is student teaching in Hickman’s classroom after graduating from Washington and Lee this past spring, with a degree in economics and a minor in education policy. Originally from Ketchikan, Alaska, Ortiz decided to stay in Lexington to fulfill her student teaching requirement, and she will remain at Waddell Elementary to take a position as a long-term substitute, filling in when another teacher goes on maternity leave.

“Having the support of the W&L faculty as mentors during my student teaching was very appealing,” she said. “I also already had connections within the school systems and knew so many of the administrators and teachers from being in the schools so much during my practicums.”

The W&L Teacher Education Program offers minors in education and education policy and allows students to complete their student teaching requirement during their last semester or after graduation. In consortium with Southern Virginia University, W&L students can obtain licensure in elementary, middle or secondary education. The interest in education continues to grow; in 2015, 43 students, or over 9 percent of the senior class, enrolled in education courses.

Haley Sigler, the assistant director of the program, said 100 percent of the licensure candidates found jobs in the field in 2014, and more students are choosing to remain in the Lexington area when beginning their careers.

She said one huge factor is the opportunity to spend time in local schools while completing education coursework. In the 2014-15 academic year, the program boasted 77 placements in local schools, amounting to over 6,300 hours.

The practicum program was carefully developed to build positive reciprocal relationships with both the Lexington City and Rockbridge County school systems. Through the university’s Clinical Faculty Program, local teachers like Hickman were included in the program’s development, giving feedback on how to best prepare new teachers and structure student teaching placements.

“This valuable partnership allows us to open our doors and classrooms to prospective educators and pair them with the highly qualified, passionate and dedicated teachers on our staff,” said Scott Jefferies, superintendent of Lexington City Schools. “The result is a dynamic instructional environment where all who are involved are learning and growing.”

Phillip Thompson, assistant superintendent for Rockbridge County Schools, said the collaboration with W&L has been a win-win situation for everyone.

“It has been wonderful to have several W&L graduates come on board as new teachers in Rockbridge County,” he said. “The level of knowledge and professionalism we experience with these graduates is refreshing in an era when it is becoming increasingly difficult to find quality teacher candidates.”

Two of those new hires in Rockbridge County include 2015 graduates Chris Hu, class co-valedictorian, and Josy Hu, who received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for, among other things, her outstanding service to others.

The recently married pair decided to stay in the Lexington area because they felt the close-knit community and connection to faculty would make the transition from college to working life easier. Chris Hu, a biochemistry major and education minor, teaches chemistry at Rockbridge County High School. Josy Hu, a Spanish major and poverty and education minor, teaches third grade at Central Elementary School.

In addition to five practicums as part of the Teacher Education Program, as a student Josy Hu taught Spanish classes at all of the Rockbridge County schools through the university’s Foreign Language Enrichment Program. She helped to create curricula during the summer and then taught 30-minute courses within the schools as a volunteer.

“My volunteer work within the schools made it so much easier to transition to working there,” Josy Hu said. “They knew me, and I had worked with the kids there before.”

Chris Hu said he and Josy are very happy they chose to stay in Lexington — they get to enjoy all of the outdoor recreation and campus activities that they did as students, but have also been able to bridge into the greater community and form new relationships.

“The staff at the schools and the people in the community have been really welcoming to us,” Chris Hu said. “They have extended a hand whenever we needed it and given us so many resources. As a first-year teacher, I can’t even imagine doing what I’m doing without that support.”

– by Jenny Pedraza