Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Taking Career Professionals to the Middle
By Caitlin Davis
Jul 20, 2012, 16:03

photo by Caitlin Davis Dr. Sheryl Beverly talks with retired Assistant Superintendent for Hopewell schools Gayle Keith

With a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and some help from James Madison University, a once vacant store front in downtown Hopewell has been transformed into a facility that will promote the goal of moving those in the career fields of mathematics, science and technology from behind office desks to the front of the classroom.

JMU, in a partnership with Hopewell City Public Schools, is fighting against a shortage of teachers in those in demand STEM subject areas with the new project, which seeks to recruit professionals to join the math and science teaching team at Hopewell’s Carter G. Woodson Middle School.

The office space on the ground floor of the Butterworth Lofts building on Broadway, has now become a space for these career switchers to participate in an accelerated, alternative licensure project.

The “Middle Matters” project allows individuals to earn a teaching license in two years through the use of self-paced learning modules and the guidance of JMU teaching professionals.

Dominic Swayne, Interim Director with JMU College of Education, said the partnership with Hopewell was an easy decision. He did robotics work with the school for several years and knows how the division operates.

“The folks here in Hopewell are very easy and very good to work with. They are always willing to try and they are not afraid to try new things,” Swayne said.

And the location is perfect for the program.

“It had all the right qualities and fit with how we see ourselves intertwined with the community,” Swayne said.

The office space in the lofts building has been transformed into a distance based learning center. The front room, equipped with large chairs and laptops set up on tables lining the walls, is designed to encourage discussion on lessons. A large conference room in the back has large screen televisions to project lessons from teachers in Harrisonburg. Soon there will be a professional library as well.

The facility is also child friendly by design.

“It is designed for working adults. If that is one of the thing necessary for success, you need to bring your kids. It is meant to be an adult student friendly facility,” Dr. Cheryl Beverly, Professor at JMU College of Education, said.

Beverly said Middle Matters has already started receiving applications for the program, which kicks into full gear next month.

Hopewell is functioning as the first pilot site for the program and Beverly said it will be taken to other localities if it is successful.

“There is not anything like this. The whole thing is built very differently,” Beverly said.

Steve Purcell, Department Head for the College of Education, said Hopewell is a high needs school division in terms of meeting certain standards in math and science. He said JMU’s assistance is affirming what the mission is all about.

“That is the reason we’re here. It is a different world and we want to connect to the life they want as teachers...we see it as a beginning,” Purcell said.

“Our goal is in two years, we will have filled the needs of the middle and high school,” Swayne said.

Gayle Keith, retired Assistant Superintendent with Hopewell City Public Schools, was an intregal part of bringing JMU to Hopewell. She and Beverly worked together on the project for a year, communicating over long-distances. Beverly was in Belgium at the startup of the project.

Even though she is recently retired from the school system, Keith is pleased to see the project coming to life downtown. She understands the need for the partnership and why she began the discussion with JMU.

“It is difficult to recruit math and science teachers as well as retaining them,” Keith said.

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