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Distance-learning proposal wins grant for Rock Springs

AMANDA SEBASTIANO
Staff Writer

A unique proposal of technology use in classrooms and a highly effective staff put a local elementary school on the map to becoming a partner with a national organization, said Drew Polly, co-director of the UNC-Charlotte Professional Development Schools (PDS) network.
Chosen as one of 15 in the state to join the PDS program from 2012 to 2014, Rock Springs Elementary will receive a $3,000 grant in the fall to use toward reading and literacy programs.
In the past, applicants in the Charlotte area were typically chosen over those further away, but Rock Springs brought something new to the table this year that caught Polly’s attention.
Students from UNCC will be traveling to the chosen schools to observe daily activities, stressing the importance of location as a factor and making the Lincoln County school a likely underdog in the process at first, Polly said. New concepts and ways to utilize different tools displayed in the grant proposal, though, later won over Polly and his colleagues.
The idea to use Skype and other distance-learning technologies to incorporate UNCC students into the classrooms, while being a county away, distinguished the grant from others, Polly told the Times-News on Tuesday.
Using Skype, UNCC students will be able to observe lessons in Rock Springs’ classrooms from their own campus, but will also be doing some fieldwork at the school as well.
Every two school years, faculty members at UNCC are given applications to distribute to schools they are involved with or have a connection to – an exclusive system that limits the amount of applicants.
Chosen schools will take part in a two-year program that focuses on improving the teaching process for instructors and the learning process for students, from pre-Kindergarten to high school. Currently, more than 1,000 school-university partnerships exist across the country.
Teachers at Rock Springs will attend seminars, receive training to help improve their techniques in classrooms, and some may have the opportunity to go back to school to further their own education.
Prospective teachers – UNCC students – will be shadowing teachers at Rock Springs and visiting classrooms to get a feel for what their careers will entail, post-college; a relationship that benefits multiple parties. The program gives current teachers grants and tools to encourage their development, in exchange for letting undergraduate and graduate students watch and learn from them.
The PDS board hopes to strengthen the skills of current teachers, while developing new teachers who are gearing up to enter the education field, to ensure an overall better environment for students.
“It’s a two-way relationship, really,” Polly said. “We’re able to have stronger students leave UNCC and go into the teaching field, and often times the PDSs hire those same students so they are able to get a leg up (over other schools) in hiring new teachers.”

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