Hundreds of University of Virginia employees recently participated in the annual United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area Laurence E. Richardson Day of Caring, an event that assists many organizations throughout Charlottesville and the surrounding areas.
However, the Day of Caring is but one day that U.Va reaches out to the broader community.
At the Curry School of Education, students and faculty serve as resources and support for a variety of initiatives in the community. Connection to the community is a core principal for the Curry School. “The core elements of Curry’s community engagement are student learning and the application of new knowledge, faculty advancement in both scholarship and teaching, and an appreciation of each community’s culture and unique needs,” said Dean Robert Pianta.
This summer, four Curry faculty members served on a panel for the City of Charlottesville public schools that discussed effective teaching. Taking place at Charlottesville High School, educators, parents and the community were invited to join the discussion and hear from U.Va. assistant professor Robert Berry, professor Dan Duke, associate dean for academic affairs Joe Garofalo and associate professor Susan Mintz. The panelists discussed which configuration of grades and class sizes might work best for Charlottesville students. The panelists also focused on offering social and emotional learning in classes and enhancing relationships between teacher and student.
Berry, an assistant professor of elementary education and mathematics education, spent two weeks with rising fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students through the M3 (Math, Men, Mission) program, an algebra readiness initiative for 21st-century learners. The tutoring program aims to get African-American boys more excited about math. Berry was joined in the program by two U.Va. graduate students, Oren McCain and Kateri Thunder.
“The M-cubed program provided African-American boys the opportunity to experience mathematics in ways they do not experience it in their regular classrooms. The students were involved with solving open-ended problems that had no apparent solution path until the students became engaged in the problems,” Berry said. “One student stated at the closing ceremony that ‘... This program made me think. ... In school the math was easy. In here, we had to think about the problem and had to explain ourselves.’
“Bottom line, the program required that the boys engage in mathematics that was focused on developing strategies rather than focusing on finding the right answer,” Berry said.
The Curry School also is partnering with the Charlottesville and Albemarle County school systems to implement a $6 million “Safe Schools/Healthy Students” grant from the U.S. Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice departments that was awarded this summer. The grant will support efforts in promoting healthy childhood development and preventing violence and substance abuse in schools.
With this funding, the local schools will create teams of professionals in every middle and high school to offer structure and support to students who are at risk for bullying, substance abuse and behavior problems.
Dewey Cornell, a professor in Curry’s Clinical and School Psychology program, has worked closely with those from the other local organizations in writing and now in implementing the grant. Graduate students from the Curry School will participate on the teams of professionals in each middle and high school.
“The Safe Schools project launches another Curry partnership with area schools that will engage our students in a combination of prevention services and scientific research on effective educational practices,” Cornell said.
Also this summer, the Curry School partnered with Albemarle County schools, SchoolNet and the University-School Partnership to present EduStat University 2009, a national education leadership conference.
This year’s theme, “Re-imagining Education,” drew educators, administrators and graduate students nationwide to Monticello High School “to design solutions to support educators in preparing all students to excel in the digital and global economy,” said Rebecca Kneedler, associate dean for external partnerships and international initiatives at Curry.
Ongoing Curry-community ventures include two local and one international program
In 2007, the Charlottesville/Albemarle Partnership for Children, United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area, the Curry School and more than 20 local community and business leaders formed a partnership to develop a local public/private school readiness initiative. Called “Smart Beginnings”, it was funded through a major grant from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and private and public contributions.
“The partnering efforts with the U.Va. Curry School have been notable for the enthusiastic willingness to share time and expertise in support of our local community,” said Miriam Rushfinn, director of Smart Beginnings. She cited three at Curry for their “invaluable involvement”: Dean Robert Pianta, who serves on Smart Beginnings Leadership Council; Andy Mashburn, senior research scientist, for his advisory support and involvement with measuring local school readiness initiative; and Tim Landrum, senior scientist, who provides advisory support on local Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening assessments.
Students in Curry’s Communication Disorders program are in their second year of working with local Alzheimer’s patients and their families. This year, the program was named one of U.Va.’s Academic Community Engagement Projects and was funded by an inaugural Jefferson Public Citizen award from U.Va.’s Office of Community Engagement. Students travel to the homes of persons with memory loss and set up communication aids.
Barbara Braddock, assistant professor at Curry, oversees the project. She said it’s a win-win. “Participants with mild and moderate cognitive impairment engage in meaningful activity, and University students reported a positive service learning experience,” she said.
Two Curry students have partnered with two students from U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences to bring a project to life in South Africa after getting it off the ground with the help of a gifted education teacher from a Charlottesville elementary school. Through the project, the students planned a unit on using alternative energy to cook school lunches in rural South African schools and created a curriculum to teach students in South Africa about it. After returning from South Africa this past May, having taught 100-plus sixth-graders about alternative energy, they will be working with local teachers to introduce the same lesson to students in Charlottesville.
“The Curry School has a close and special relationship with the local school systems and the Charlottesville-Albemarle community. We will continue to strengthen and deepen these ties because they benefit everyone,” said Curry Dean Bob Pianta.