October 15, 2013

VSU receives Christa McAuliffe Award

October 15, 2013 Kristin Finney The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University is continuously striving to reach new levels with their students and staff. This need for success has led the university to win, for the second time in 10 years, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award.

In 2004, VSU won the Christa McAuliffe award, making them the only institution in the nation to be named a winner twice.

The Christa McAuliffe award is given to institutions that are able to show their effectiveness in producing Pre-K through twelfth grade learning outcomes. The universities must also explain how their education programs were redesigned to improve or change the outcomes they produced.

VSU was able to win this prestigious award for the second time thanks in large part to their work with the Valdosta Early College Academy (VECA).

In 2008, VSU partnered with the Valdosta City School System to establish VECA. Students and staff with the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education and Human Services, were especially involved in this partnership.

The College of Education and Human Services saw the need for help in the City School System after finding statistics that were quite alarming. According to Dr. Brian Gerber, interim dean of the VSU College of Education and Human Services, at the time of VECA’s inception, 70 percent of all students in the Valdosta City School System qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. They also found that, of the 74 percent of the school population that is black, only 50 percent of those students graduate from high school. These statistics showed a serious need, one that VSU hoped to be able to fill through VECA.

VECA is specifically for students with high risk factors for dropping out of school. Each year, fifth grade students in the Valdosta City School system are given the opportunity to fill out an application to VECA. These applications are reviewed against a rubric and those students selected are then enrolled in the academy.

At VECA, students are encouraged by their teachers and treated under the expectation that they will graduate high school and continue on to college. The academy teaches at an accelerated learning level with the hopes that by the time the students are in eleventh grade, they will be able to take dual enrollment courses at VSU.

During the first year, VECA admitted 36 sixth grade students. After two years with VECA, the students showed significantly higher scores on the Georgia CRCT in social studies and language arts. However, the students did not show significant gains in math or science. These findings led VECA to alter their program to improve those scores as well. As per the requirements for the Christa McAuliffe award, the academy saw a troubling outcome and put in the extra work to improve.

Two years after those changes were implemented, the VECA students scored significantly higher in all subject areas, including math and science.

After receiving the award for the second time, Dr. Gerber was thrilled.

 “I was very excited and happy for the schools, the teachers and the partnership between VSU and Valdosta City Schools. There is a tremendous amount of work, creativity and innovation put into this program. The teachers and administrators need to be recognized for what they are doing and the difference they are making,” said Gerber.

As for what makes VECA different from other schools, Gerber said, “I believe it is the strong partnership. Valdosta City Schools have a lot to offer their students. At VSU, it is part of our mission to be involved with the community. That is especially true with the College of Education and Human Resources. We have to take an active roll in K-12 education. This is a model partnership that takes the expertise and resources available and shows how it can impact K-12 education if applied in a positive way.”

The VECA program currently has roughly 250 sixth through eleventh grade students, more than a dozen teachers and a full time principal. The program is housed in the former S.L. Mason Elementary School on Azalea Drive. Each year, the program adds a new class of 50 sixth graders. The program is hoping to expand to include high school seniors by 2014.

VSU President Dr. William McKinney will accept the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award at the President-to-Presidents Lecture Luncheon on Tuesday, Oct. 22, as part of the AASCU annual meeting in Los Angeles, Calif. Gerber will be presented a follow-up award in March 2014 at the annual meeting of the Teacher Education Council of State Colleges and Universities in Indianapolis, Ind.

For more information on the VECA program, please contact Dr. Brian Gerber at (229)333-5353 or email him at blgerber@valdosta.edu.

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