EXCITE (Exploring Careers Through Industry Teacher Externships) served as the perfect name for IALR’s week-long professional development program, which placed 24 middle and high school teachers in Danville, Pittsylvania and Caswell (N.C.) County business settings in order to connect the classroom to the workplace.  Twelve businesses participated, allowing area teachers to observe and experience an industry work environment, and teachers received a $600 stipend for successfully completing the program.  

The Danville Regional Foundation funded EXCITE as part of its support for the Dan River Region Collaborative, a partnership of IALR’s Advanced Learning division, led by Dr. Julie Brown, to support workforce development efforts.  IALR acted as the debriefing location as well as the host of four teachers during the program.  

“IALR’s EXCITE teacher participants worked side by side with researchers in Polymers, Robotics, Precision Agriculture and Biology to get a taste of various projects in our research department,” said Dr. Scott Lowman, IALR Chief Scientist.  “Some of the experiences were hands on while others were observations.  We hope the teachers were able to observe the 21st century skills needed to excel in these fields.” 

Dr. Jeremy Beach with Whitney Terry

Whitney Terry, an Agriculture teacher at Dan River High School, learned how polymers are extruded and about their many uses in industry while working with Dr. Jeremy Beach. 

“I’ve learned about new technologies and opportunities for students in the area as well as the skills needed for trades that benefit our region,” said Terry.  

Susan Duff, a Life Sciences teacher at Tunstall Middle School, worked with Dr. Chuansheng Mei examining images of bacteria for activity.  

“Students do not have the problem-solving skills that are needed in industry,” said Duff.  “I’ve learned about experiments I can do in the classroom to encourage their development of these skills.” 

Susan Duff with Dr. Chuansheng Mei

For the first time, CodeVA has offered training for Southern Virginia teachers at IALR, and one of the hosted sessions garnered the highest registration rate in the state.  CodeVA partners with schools, parents and communities to bring computer science education to all of Virginia’s students.  Traditionally, training sessions were hosted in Richmond, where CodeVA is located, but this year—thanks to funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission—they held sessions in seven hubs across Virginia for more accessibility.  IALR’s Advanced Learning division partners with CodeVA to serve as the hub for Southern Virginia activity.  Staff member Jessie Vernon worked with the Institute Conference Center to coordinate hosting three sessions in Danville for Southern Virginia teachers from July 9-13 and one on July 12.

The session titled “Elementary Coaches Academy,” which awarded educators a certificate as a CodeVA Elementary Computer Science Coach, had the highest registration in the state with 48 participants.  Phyllis Meade, a K-5 STEM Coordinator for Henry County Public Schools, says that she will be using her knowledge from Elementary Coaches Academy to help with professional development and modeling lesson plans with computer science and the core curriculum incorporated at the nine elementary schools in Henry County.  

“We began introducing coding in our schools two years ago,” said Meade.  “The students have such interest in the coding activities and are really excited about Robotics and design.” 

Advanced Learning at IALR is accomplished by an approach that supports talent development from childhood through employment.  Dr.  Julie Brown, IALR’s Director of Advanced Learning maneuvers a myriad of partner organizations to ensure a collaborative approach that supports a regional advanced learning strategy.  This involves inspiring, developing, credentialing and supporting learning opportunities within the region.  

Inspiring a region to invest in workforce development does not start on the shop floor of a business or industry - it starts by transitioning a region’s appreciation and desire for these opportunities.  It requires collaboration with many organizations in the region’s footprint.  This is evident in IALR’s partnerships for the Career Choice Expo to inspire students at an early age and developing STEM interest with camps, field trips and a STEM Summit that provides educational workshops and exploratory sessions.  Advanced Learning is traveling the region in a mobile Inspiration Lab to inspire students by exposure to drones, 3D Printing and computer gaming.  

Development of a strong advanced learning strategy requires creative professional development opportunities.  This can be seen in IALR’s work with CodeVA and the computer science professional development programs for the region.  It is also evident in the EXCITE Program – Exploring Careers through Industry Teacher Externships – a weeklong immersion experience for teachers into industry environments.

Strengthening work skills involves a strong credentialing program for the region that is respected and leads to higher wages and opportunities.  Dr.  Brown has worked to develop partnerships like the Dan River Region Collaborative to support initiatives such as ACT’s Certified Work Ready Community and the National Career Ready Certification program that has spread across the southern portions of Virginia.  IALR also works with the Healthcare Collaborative to support training for community health workers, a new certified position in Virginia.  Another effort involves analysis of apprenticeship models for the region, assessing industry need and replicating national and international programs of excellence.

The IALR team considers strong leadership to support advanced learning, service and career opportunities a priority.  It can be seen in support of the public school systems in the region by hosting the Piedmont Governor’s School for Math, Science and Technology and the Academy for Engineering and Technology.  It is also evident in the Lifelong Learning Classes in computer training and in IALR internships in industries as well as scholarships for STEM students across the service region.  IALR also works to weave in opportunities for service learning through the Dan River Year AmeriCorps program and understanding the importance of community engagement to the region’s advanced learning strategy.  The IALR Advanced Learning team recognizes their critical responsibility in partnering with you to elevate the region.  

Photo: Dr. Julie Brown showing the passion required to implement Advanced Learning with Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni and IALR Executive Director Mark Gignac

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