September 14, 2023 : By Christian Shields - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Liberty University School of Education hosted a partnership breakfast for representatives from local public and private school systems on Wednesday to support area educators and provide them with further opportunities at the university.
The event featured presentations from university administration, including School of Education Dean Dr. Don Raleigh and School of Engineering Dean Dr. Mark Horstemeyer.
Raleigh joined the School of Education in July after previously serving as Senior Associate Dean for Academic Operations at Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM). Prior to joining LUCOM, he served as the superintendent for Pryor Public Schools in Oklahoma.
During the event, which included representatives from over 18 school systems, Raleigh acknowledged the importance of continued communication between Liberty and area school districts. The cooperation not only allows Liberty students to complete their student teaching and practicum hours, but also allows Liberty to share its vast resources with the local community.
“We can’t work together if we don’t know each other,” Raleigh said. “Having the opportunity to share a little bit of my heart today is a part of us trying to start relationships and find ways we can maybe work together. I feel your pain and we know some of the challenges, so we want to know (how to help). Our staff and faculty are so committed to our students. They go above and beyond whatever it takes.”
He also encouraged the guests to fill out a survey on the challenges that schools are currently facing and how Liberty can step in to help alleviate some of those issues.
Michelle Goodwin, associate dean of licensure and residential programs for the School of Education, explained how Liberty equips its students through various programs and acknowledged the critical significance that local schools play in developing Liberty students to one day become educators themselves.
“We thank you so much for being our partners with us because we can’t train teachers and educators without you,” she said. “We know that you are the key. … It’s important that they know their objectives and the basics of behavioral management, but until they see your veteran teachers and educators doing it as masters, then it’s not going to click.”
Goodwin invited the administrators to join the Community Advisory Council, which meets each semester to share data and other information that will help prepare Liberty education students to enter the workforce.
Horstemeyer next demonstrated the importance of teaching engineering and how the development of technology such as microscopes and telescopes has propelled scientific advancements. He shared the practical work that he and the engineering department have done to develop safer football helmets by studying ram and bison skulls and offered to visit local schools to showcase technology such as Tesla coils and the department’s Formula racecar and Baja vehicles. The school held an Engineering Day for area students in March.
Other Liberty staff who spoke at the event included Employee Relations Coordinator Adrian Farrow and Director of Online Gate and Field Placement Carmen Durst. Durst, who previously served as a school administrator in New York, empathized with the current issues affecting schools, including teacher shortages.
“I remember the feeling of a teacher quitting in the middle of the year,” she said. “It felt like, ‘Oh my goodness, what are we going to do?’ I remember the feeling of August wondering who was going to teach kindergarten. … I get it and understand. I know that feeling of, ‘Where did the teachers go?’ So, to be a part of this is so exciting for me. Being on the other side of getting to help prepare students to go into the classroom is such an exciting thing.”
After the presentations, Raleigh facilitated a brief discussion period during which school administrators could voice any thoughts or concerns. One topic was the increased need for teachers who are prepared to handle any behavioral or mental health issues that emerge in classrooms. Raleigh responded by noting that Liberty hopes to train students for such situations through simulations and other training exercises.
Another issue discussed was the overall deficit of quality teachers at all levels, from kindergarten through high school.
Dr. Sherry Wiese, supervisor of professional learning and new student support for Bedford County Public Schools, said she found the event beneficial.
“I think it’s really important (to have this event) because not only can we get to network with the university, which is so important to retention and recruitment for our school division, but also get to know the other directors from the surrounding schools,” she said. “Yes, we are competitors in the region, but we all want people to choose the teaching profession and be successful in the profession whether they come to our school division or a surrounding school division. We are all working toward the same goal.”
“We are thankful for the great turnout and that we were able to begin meaningful discussions with so many of our partners,” Raleigh said after the breakfast. “We look forward to continuing to work with each of them as we strengthen our partnerships.”