Wheeling Country Day School is committed not only to providing its students with a high-quality independent school education, but also to helping train the next generation of teachers with an emphasis on two areas in which the United States continues to fall behind its peers: math and science.
The Woodsdale school began partnering with West Liberty University in August to offer student teachers classroom lab experiences as well as methods courses. The courses are taught at the independent school by first-grade teacher and math specialist Terre Brubaker and fourth- and fifth-grade science teacher Kassie Edwards, who are serving as WLU College of Education adjunct professors.
In the meantime, the two schools have received a $228,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation to maximize the school-university partnership. In addition, West Liberty Elementary School is included in the second phase of the grant.
Country Day teachers and West Liberty University adjunct professors Terre Brubaker, left, and Kassie Edwards observe as WLU teacher candidates, including Breann Widder, far right, conduct a scientific experiment with third-grader Lee Cartwright.
"We now have the funding to include professional development, materials and technology," said Liz Hofreuter-Landini, Wheeling Country Day head of school. She and WLU College of Education dean Keely Camden co-wrote the grant.
Hofreuter-Landini said the grant will allow the school and university to equip STEM labs; STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The lab at West Liberty will allow the teacher candidates to develop and plan curricula, experiments and activities, while the partner lab at Country Day will allow for the implementation of those plans with students.
Hofreuter-Landini said the impetus behind the school-university partnership was a National Science Teachers Association study that found only 16 percent of new elementary school teachers feel equipped to teach science and math. Primary teachers typically are not trained to teach science because it is so small a part of U.S. elementary school curricula. In fact, the study revealed 80 percent of elementary school teachers spend less than an hour a week teaching science, Hofreuter-Landini said.
"Unless a teacher really thinks teaching science is important, he or she may not take the time or make the effort to do so. And yet, science may be THE subject that allows a child to be successful and to develop a love of learning and reason to go to school," Edwards said. "It is also possible to integrate science with other topics, especially reading and math."
As part of the grant, the two schools are assembling a roundtable of regional science experts who will share what they believe an elementary science class should include. One of those experts is Eriks Janelsins, director of the Oglebay Institute Schrader Environmental Education Center in Wheeling, who is helping the schools locate classrooms that are successfully integrating science in other learning areas.
"We are researching where it is being done and how to do it right," Hofreuter-Landini said.
Because Wheeling Country Day is an independent school, teachers have the freedom to encourage students to question the world around them, and are afforded the time to help them explore the answers, Hofreuter-Landini said.
"Children are natural scientists," she said. When a child asks, as one kindergartner at Wheeling Country Day did recently, "Is a snowflake alive?" the teacher can take time out and engage the whole class in a mission to follow that line of inquiry.
"Elementary students need hands-on science because by using all of their senses they not only are more involved with the content of the lesson but also have deeper comprehension of the subject," Edwards said. "Students who learn with hands-on also are more likely to develop a creative use for the plant, or goop, or electrical circuit they are studying."
In addition to providing a "deep focus" on science, Hofreuter-Landini said, the Benedum grant is facilitating a study on how veteran teachers (like Brubaker and Edwards) and novice teachers spur each other to success.
"Being a teacher is a craft, and it is a beautifully difficult thing to do," Hofreuter-Landini said. Not only can experienced teachers pass their knowledge and skills on to up-and-coming instructors, but the young teachers also have a lot to offer veteran teachers.
These relationships are being explored and the results will be tracked as part of the grant.
Established in 1929, Wheeling Country Day School is a nonprofit independent school and a member of the Independent School Association of the Central States. Its programs include We Two for 2-year-olds and a caregiver, junior kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, senior kindergarten and grades 1-5. In addition to its academic curriculum, the school offers art, music, five foreign languages, physical education, technology, library and a Kids in the Kitchen hands-on gardening and nutrition program.
- This article originally appeared in the State of the Ohio Valley 2011: Education, a publication of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Feb. 23