From special programs to distinguished awards, the area’s school systems are paving the way for students to be successful both in the classroom and in the real world.
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Roanoke City Public Schools
Teachers for Tomorrow, a new initiative spearheaded by the school board, is helping high schoolers discover firsthand the joys of teaching. Participating students – 30 total – learn not only the history of education, instruction strategy and classroom management, but also get to experience teaching in a classroom.
“We want to recruit highly qualified teachers, so we put this program together to help make that happen,” says Kathleen Duncan, career and technical education director for the city schools. “Who better to come back to teach than our highly qualified graduates.”
A similar program existed in the ‘90s, Duncan says. And the teacher cadet instructor for Teachers for Tomorrow, Kurrai Thompson, is a product of that program.
“So it’s come full circle for me,” Thompson says. “It’s wonderful to work with these students; some are naturals already.”
Students from William Fleming High School recently gained experience in the field by giving presentations to kindergartners at Round Hill Elementary. Destinee Clay and Antonio Johnson, both seniors, created a book and read it to a classroom. Both say the program has brought them out of their comfort zone and helped them discover their future careers.
“I want to be a culinary teacher, and I know this program can lead me to that,” Johnson says.
“I’ve learned that everyday is different with teaching by viewing other people teach,” Clay says. “I’d like to teach preschool one day.”
More Cool Programs
This school year, all 17 of the city elementary schools have VH1 Save the Music Foundation programs, says Justin McLeod, community relations coordinator. VH1 provides money to buy instruments for students and since the program began in 2009, VH1 Save the Music has donated close to $500,000 worth of instruments.
“The program introduces instruments to students at a young age,” McLeod says. “We are finding it is helping our middle and high school music programs. Since they are starting at a young age, they are really advanced by the time they get to the middle and high school.”
The school system is also launching an initiative that will put a laptop in the hands of every eighth grader.
“The students will be able to take these laptops home,” McLeod says. “Now that SOL tests are completely done online, we found students are struggling on the tests. The goal will be for these eighth graders to use these laptops every day in the classroom or at home.”
Roanoke County Public Schools
In an effort to provide special education students with similar opportunities available for gifted or advanced learners, Roanoke County Public Schools introduced makerspaces. This pilot program challenges special education students to develop key skills of creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking, all while solving problems on their own.
Makerspaces presents students with a problem, gives them a set of resources and sets them free to solve that problem using both high-tech and low-tech tools. From laptops, 3-D printers and video technology to simple items such as tape, paper, cardboard rolls and other everyday items, students are encouraged to make their own solution to the problem and are given the freedom to try any idea, says Dr. Jessica McClung, director of special education and pupil personnel services.
“The key about this program,” says Chuck Lionberger, community relations specialist, “is that students are controlling their own learning experience and teachers act as a guide to encourage creative thinking and collaboration. As students develop their unique solution to a problem, teachers help the students learn from their failures and to remain persistent.”
According to McClung, special education students can be successful and independent learners if given the opportunity to be creative problem solvers. And teachers and facilitators are already seeing results.
“One middle school student with significant disabilities solved her first creative challenge, to the tremendous surprise of the teacher,” McClung says. “This is a student who had never shown this level of cognitive ability before. Within the first two months of the program’s implementation, we have seen considerable student growth and development as measured by the program rubrics and by teacher observation.”
Glenvar High School, which was built in 1964, is under a $24 million renovation and expansion project. A new science wing, a new entrance, a new cafeteria, expanded classrooms and redirected traffic flow around the building are all part of the renovation, says Lionberger.