By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Since starting four years ago, Lord Fairfax Community College's Educational Consortium has grown both in the number of participants and in the variety of workshops that are offered.
Educational Consortium Specialist, Julie Curry, said the program was a result of budget cuts to local school divisions.
"The schools didn't have funds that would allow their teachers to attend conferences and workshops outside of their school districts," Curry said. "So we looked at what types of speakers and seminars were being offered at the state and national level, and we got a feel for how many participants we'd have. That was the springboard."
In general, Curry described the program as "professional development in a cost effective way." It is offered to eight school divisions, including Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties. This summer, the program saw almost 2,000 participants.
While local speakers are part of the Educational Consortium, the program is able to bring in national speakers as well. Most events are offered during the summer, but a few Saturday and evening sessions are offered starting in March.
"Our first summer, we offered 12 workshops, but this summer we offered 48," Curry said. Content varies, depending on what speakers are available, as well as what teachers and administrators request as topics. Events will discuss anything from core curriculum teaching strategies, to more specific topics like SOLs and physical education.
This summer, a number of math workshops were held due to the recent change in the subjects standardized testing, Curry said. Some of the workshops were put on by national speakers and were day-long events.
"The teachers know their content, but what makes the workshops valuable is taking the curriculum apart piece by piece and understanding where the gaps are and what's not being understood by students," Curry said.
Materials and handouts are often provided by the speakers during their sessions.
Speakers also focus on teaching strategies for all levels of students, from special education learners to the gifted.
The Educational Consortium also offers workshops for administrators and those in other leadership roles.
"The Virginia Department of Education was also offering sexual misconduct and suicide prevention training, so we decided to touch on that this summer as well," Curry said. These were well received, as many teachers had asked for those topics to be covered. After every event, attendees are asked for feedback, which has helped the program grow each year.
"We've had several requests for workshops on bullying and autism," Curry said. "We'll be looking into those for next year. We're very interested in what the teachers want, and helping them help the children."
Each individual school division handles registration for the different workshops, but no matter the district, teachers and other faculty can attend any number of events completely free of charge. There is also an option to attend workshops and put that time toward college credits and license renewal, Curry said.
Curry, who was a teacher for 38 years, said the program continues to amaze her.
"When you see teachers and administrators reaching out across counties for suggestions and help, it's phenomenal," she said. "It really is an eye opener, because the same mandates come down on each division ... the grass isn't always greener on the other side."
While the Educational Consortium receives appreciation from workshop participants, Curry said they should really be thanking their school districts.
"It's because of the support from schools that anyone can attend these things for free. The fact that the school systems are willing to pay that lump sum shows the teachers that they're valued and encouraged to continue learning," she said. "We have to be lifelong learners is we're going to teach our children."