The leader of West Virginia University’s education school hopes to offer expertise to schools on Charleston’s West Side, including special training to teachers and community members, placing student teachers in the area and helping with student data collection.
Lynne Schrum, dean of the WVU College of Human Resources and Education, met with Kanawha County schools officials Thursday at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary — one of the schools involved in a Community School pilot project that allows for intervention and unique teaching methods in an attempt to turn around low student achievement on the West Side, which has long been plagued by drug-related crime and poverty.
While WVU’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion already has announced plans to become involved with the West Side project, Schrum said her department, especially, has something to offer — including expertise in counseling, child development, family studies and teacher enhancement.
“We wanted to start this conversation for us to learn what has happened there, what they’re doing, what their intentions are and to explore possible ways that we might work together,” Schrum said. “This really meets two of our goals in our college. One is to participate in, as fully as possible, our land-grant mission at WVU ... and the other is to prepare our students to be as prepared as they can for all of the populations they might serve.”
Schrum said she hopes to place more of WVU’s student teachers in West Side schools and also wants to get funding to support doctoral students who can dedicate time to the project.
“We want to be cautious, in terms of not stepping on anyone’s toes by putting students in there, but if we can be of assistance and learn from, and learn with, the community, then we want to see if we can do that,” she said. “Our students would probably benefit greatly by coming down and learning from what’s going on in some of these situations and, hopefully, have something to add to the schools.”
Finding students who are interested in working in an area like the West Side shouldn’t be difficult, Schrum said.
“Our teacher candidates are interested and want experience in assisting children who live in urban environments. West Virginia is not one of the greatest urban areas, although the West Side certainly is,” she said. “The possibility of our college actually having a positive impact in this area is exciting. We’re passionate about rural education, of course, and that’s appropriate, but also we have communities where that’s not the case, so we want to be supportive and helpful in every community that we can.”
Schrum said she also hopes to help local school officials track student achievement efficiently.
“To really evaluate that the types of programs, the money, the time, and the effort and the energy are bringing about the right outcomes, you have to make sure the data that’s being collected is all in sync,” she said. “You have to be able to see if these things are working or if we need to tinker more with this.” Other possible initiatives include providing schools with more mental-health resources, and also teacher training that is specific to working with families in struggling areas — and even extending that training out to community leaders so that families feel more comfortable coming forward to participate.
“Many parents have meetings with their children’s teachers and they may not be aware of all the things that they can ask for — the kinds of things that make those meetings successful. Community workers can learn these things, and then work with parents, and that has wonderful potential because the community workers are passionate. They’re well-known in the community, and it takes time to build trust,” Schrum said. “There are moms and dads who want to be the best parent they can but they may not know how to do that in good ways.”
While Schrum said the plans are preliminary and nothing is official yet, she has a personal passion for schools like the West Side and sees the Community School pilot as an opportunity to make a difference.
“My experience in my role as an educator has always been, if you don’t work in the community, you’re really fighting a losing battle in some ways. Schools are parts of systems. They don’t exist in a vacuum,” she said. “We know that children spend a bulk of their lives outside of our public school system, so, if we’re not working with the community — if we’re not making the school a part of the community — then we really are whistling in the wind. It takes everybody together to make a change.”
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4814 or follow @mackenziemays on Twitter.