A partnership between Fairmont State University and Marion County Schools has brought two public school teachers to campus while providing new opportunities for graduate students.
Through the Professional Development School (PDS) Partnership originated in the School of Education, Health and Human Performance, two area classrooms at Fairview Middle and Whitehall Elementary benefited from firsts.
The PDS Partnership began an expansion process in 2006 through a joint grant from the Benedum Foundation and the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts. Forty area schools in six counties chose to participate in the PDS program, and through that partnership, teachers have benefited from professional resources that extended beyond the classroom to collaboration on best practices and professional development.
“Many of the schools that chose to participate were already hosting our student teachers and other clinical students at various levels in the program so they were familiar with Fairmont State and the quality of our program,” said Barbara Owens, Director/PDS Partnership and Clinical Experiences. “Many of these schools also have Fairmont State graduates as experienced and exceptional educators currently working in the classroom.”
Partner schools not only benefit from increased input into student teaching relationships, but work closely with the PDS program to develop cross-county initiatives and information sharing. While PDS work is occurring across the country, Owens believes that FSU may be the first partnership to initiate this type of sharing model between the university, public school and graduate students enrolled in the program. “This may be one of the best examples of a collaborative effort thus far for this Partnership,” she said.
As the program continued to expand, graduate students working in the PDS office repeatedly told Owens they missed classroom interaction while earning their master’s degrees. Owens recalls, “I thought how great it would be if we could send our graduate students into the classrooms and then bring those classroom teachers to Fairmont State to work with the PDS program.”
Through the approval and support of Dr. Maria Rose, FSU Interim President; Dr. Van Dempsey, Dean of the School of Education, Health and Human Performance; Tom Deadrick and Gary Price, former and present Marion County Schools Superintendents; as well as the Marion County Board of Education, two Marion County teachers, Debbie Johnson of White Hall Elementary and Mary Jo Swiger of Fairview Middle School began working for the partnership in the fall.
“Barb Owens really had a unique vision for this new staffing model,” Swiger said. “Debbie and I are so fortunate to be part of a learning community in a new way and explore new areas and paths.”
Master of Education students Gabrielle Beech, Rose Levelle and Heather Shelton soon joined the PDS program as the first graduate students to be given the opportunity to work in a classroom while also earning their master’s degrees. Beech believes the opportunity has given the graduate students a leg up on their competition.
“The teaching world today is so competitive today and the firsthand teaching experience that Fairmont State has offered us will ensure that we stand out in the workforce. Because of the opportunity to run my own classroom while earning my graduate degree, I feel confident in my teaching abilities and I have an incredible support system to help along the way,” Beech said.
Johnson and Swiger agree that being the first teachers to join the program has proven to be extremely beneficial for all involved.
“We still work closely with our sponsoring school and the graduate students working in our classroom,” Johnson said. “We have helped our graduate students open the classroom at the beginning of the year, answered questions from FSU faculty about current public school practice and helped facilitate teacher collaboration across county lines. This experience has been full of new opportunities.”
Dempsey remains very proud of this unique partnership and FSU first. Building upon FSU’s historical foundation, the program has really flourished.
“The institution has a long history of working with schools across the state. The PDS Partnership has helped reinvigorate those relationships and has allowed new ideas to more easily flow across county lines,” he said. “By bringing Johnson and Swiger to Fairmont State, we have also brought more than 50 years of teaching experience. These ladies have been able to coach our students and faculty in a way that money cannot buy. From resource issues to higher education interfacing, these teachers have real life experience on how to manage the system and do so successfully. They are a priceless resource to us.”
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