Town & Gown:
We are Striving for Success in our Schools
By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - Town and Gown
Improving instructors and amending educational teaching methods
are more important today than ever in an age in which students are surrounded by
a fast-paced, high-tech society. “Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” remain
constant and imperative skills taught in schools, but our children no longer
live in the “dear old golden rule days.” Twenty-first century students read
Wikis, write blogs and do math problems on cell phones.
Jacksonville State University held its first Alabama Math, Science and
Technology Initiative (AMSTI) Summer Institute July 9-20 to train teachers on
new techniques in order to provide students with the best possible learning
opportunities. AMSTI is the brainchild of a committee of K-12 educators, higher
education representatives and business leaders developed by the Alabama
Department of Education.
By summer 2008, there will be 11 AMSTI sites in operation spread throughout
Alabama. Instructors from the JSU site, housed at JSU McClellan, trained
approximately 500 math and science teachers and administrators last summer and
are already at capacity for the upcoming summer, projected to train nearly 750.
AMSTI Project Administrator Tanya Barnes explains an AMSTI school is one in
which 80 percent of the math and science faculty at a given school attend
two-week training sessions for two consecutive summers. Offered at a rate a
teacher can’t refuse, there is no cost to the educator or the school; a stipend
and classroom materials for the entire school year are even provided.
“Not only do we provide professional development and materials,” says Barnes,
“we provide the follow-up support.” Specialists from AMSTI go into the
classrooms of AMSTI trained teachers four out of five days a week to help them
incorporate the materials and implement the new teaching strategies.
During the current 2007-08 school year, about 470 math kits and 280 science
kits are serving nearly 550 teachers in 31 schools. Science Specialist Polly
Crow says teenagers are typically hard to get excited about learning, but when
she walks into an AMSTI classroom, the students are eager and teachers are
energized. “(AMSTI) creates more communication in the classroom between
students,” says Crow.
“Everything has got to be quick with today’s kids,” says Science Specialist
Carol McGinnis, who enjoys seeing the excitement on the faces of students
learning by building a volcano or observing live animals in their habitats.
“AMSTI gives (the students) a chance to experience a good kind of activity and
learning in the classroom.”
An AMSTI classroom may sound noisy upon entering, but this “noise” is the
sound of students participating in hands-on activities leading them to making
personal discoveries by asking questions and communicating with fellow students
in order to gain answers.
Barnes says part of the AMSTI teacher training includes retraining teachers
to guide the students down a path lined with multiple ways to find a solution to
a given problem. “As long as the training is implemented, it will be
successful,” says McGinnis.
The results from the implementation of AMSTI are already being seen. “In
mathematics, our test scores were double the national average at both fourth and
eighth grade — the only two grades tested,” said AMSTI State Coordinator Steve
Ricks. “Such improvement is phenomenal when one considers that AMSTI is only in
13 percent of the fourth grade and 23 percent of the eighth grade schools that
AMSTI is based on math, science and technology; however, the kits to the
teachers also include books, notebooks and other writing and reading material
coordinating with lesson topics. Teachers are also trained in reading strategies
as a part of the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) managed by the Department of
Education. This initiative was created from President Bush’s No Child Left
Behind Act of 2001 and has already greatly impacted students across the state.
Dr. Cynthia Harper, dean of the Department of Education and Professional
Studies at JSU says the goal of the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) is to
promote excellence in reading for children enrolled in Alabama’s public schools.
“Attention is given to help teachers learn to meet the challenges that
struggling readers present in the classroom.”
In a State of Alabama Department of Education September press release, State
Superintendent of Education Joe Morton said, “We’re number one on the list of
fourth grade reading improvement in the nation, and it is not because the states
are listed alphabetically.”
“We are proud to report that reading instruction at Jacksonville State
University is fully aligned with the Alabama Reading Initiative instructional
modules,” says Dr. Harper. “The college offers teacher education candidates a
balanced approach to teaching reading that is scientifically research-based.
Candidates graduate with the baccalaureate degree, fully equipped and prepared
to teach reading in Alabama’s public schools.”
According to the AMSTI Web page, the Alabama Department of Education hopes to
receive more state financial support in the next fiscal year in order to up the
number of schools accepted into the summer training sessions and open up another
site and distribution center.
Now that we have seen the results of higher scores on tests and brighter
smiles on students’ faces, it is essential to support our community and develop
the Math, Science and Technology Initiative in Alabama. By continuing to develop
and seek out the best teaching methods, we strive for the success of our
Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and
Communications, contributed to this article.
About William A. Meehan
Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville
State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.
See story at The Jacksonville News's website: www.jaxnews.com
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