At 'Plan-it Literacy' - From left: Crystal Bonville, Sandy Jeffries, Meg Demolet and Mary Carrington
Three births, two weddings, one adoption and an engagement.
That is the tally so far during the two years that 25 public school teachers from Moore County have been enrolled in a Master of Arts in Elementary Education program offered by UNC Pembroke.
UNCP calls it their "cohort" at Sandhills Community College in Southern Pines, N.C. The teachers call it a family.
"We've bonded," said Emily Brady, a cohort member and teacher at High Falls Elementary School. "We are a family."
The Sandhills cohort will travel to UNCP in December 2004 for commencement exercises. It will be the first visit to the Pembroke campus for many of them.
"I've only been to UNCP once, and I had to ask directions," said Sandy Jeffries, a teacher at Pinehurst Elementary School.
UNCP offered the graduate program entirely on Sandhills' campus in late afternoon classes that suited the schedules of elementary school teachers with families.
Teaching teachers - Karen McCullough offers instruction on how to teach research papers
"The professors were very good to us, very accommodating and flexible about class times," said Crystal Bonville. "If there was a PTA meeting, they understood."
Dr. Sharon Sharp, who coordinates UNCP's elementary education graduate program, said the Sandhills cohort is a talented one.
"We are so proud of this outstanding group of master's candidates," Dr. Sharp said. "The mission, in part, of the master's program in elementary education is to prepare the experienced teachers for full participation in the profession as leaders, researchers, and master practitioners."
To become masters of their trade, cohort members and their families made many sacrifices to complete the program.
"Monday night was pizza night at our house and Wednesday was Chinese," said Mary Carrington, a teacher of academically gifted children based at Aberdeen Primary School.
"My daughters learned how to cook," Jeffries added.
The program was worth the effort, cohort members said. What they learned in the classroom was relevant to what they were doing in their own classrooms.
"It was great because everything we did was useful in the classroom," Jeffries said.
"The professors were sensitive about what we need to succeed in the classroom," Bonville said.
"We had a lot of input, and we did a lot of the teaching ourselves," said.
"Our professors have been wonderful," said Mandy Browne, a teacher at Carthage Elementary. "It was personalized instruction."
"We were able to take our class work assignments and integrate them into our classrooms - theory into practice," said Michelle Lester of Sandhills Farm Life Elementary School.
A master's degree will give the teachers a boost in pay, but they said there was more of value realized than that. And, the cohort thanked UNCP's School of Education for opening the doors of opportunity.
"The pay increase is nice, but the satisfaction of sticking it out and getting through it is tremendous," Lester said. "I would not have been able to go to school with two children if UNCP had not offered this program here."
A cohort has benefits for UNCP too, said Dr. Warren Baker, dean of the School of Education.
"Our Moore County cohorts originated as a result of a great deal of interest shown by educators in the region," Dr. Baker said. "Because all of the groups are currently practicing teachers, the cohort-based approach is used because it provide them with a systematic structure for course scheduling."
December will not be the end of this group. Once a cohort always a cohort, several members said.
"We're staying together to do National Board Certification next," said Meg Demolet, a teacher at Pinehurst Elementary School. National certification would further upgrade the skills and pay of these Moore County teachers.
The Moore County Schools system received additional benefits from the program last spring when the 25 cohort members delivered a daylong reading workshop called "Plan-it Literacy." The program was attended by 60 Moore County teachers and featured 20 sessions on topics from using digital photography in the classroom to writing research papers.
"Recognizing that master's candidates are experienced professional educators, the Moore County cohort members were required to develop workshops around an area of their literacy expertise in a course," Dr. Sharp said. "Their leadership project became the "Plan-it" Literacy Conference."
"Crystal Bonville used the opportunity to coordinate the conference as her leadership project, and she did an outstanding job," Dr. Sharp said.
At Sandhills Community College, UNCP has offered several degree programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Nursing and the Master of Business Administration. Stand-alone undergraduate courses have also been offered for several years.
The Master of Arts in Elementary Education is one of three UNCP master's degree cohorts currently in progress at Sandhills, and more may be in the works. Dr. Collie Coleman, UNCP's Associate Vice Chancellor for Outreach, attended the reading workshop at SCC.
"Actually being at the workshop, along with five UNCP faculty members and administrative officials, provided me and my colleagues with a clearer understanding of and appreciation for the value of programs such as this," Dr. Coleman said. "This is high-quality, reality-based distance learning. We not only address the critical teacher shortage in Moore County through this graduate program, we impact and improve the learning and teaching process by providing well-trained teachers who are committed to remaining in the Moore County Schools.
"It's a win-win for everyone - especially for the teachers and students in the county," Coleman said. "UNCP is proud to be a functional and positively contributing partners in this endeavor."
Sandhills President John Dempsey said offering advanced degree programs in communities like Moore County is important for the community college and the community.
"This is just what we hoped for when the partnership got started," Dempsey said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for folks who are place-bound to complete their education, and we at Sandhills are happy and proud to be part of it."
Dr. Rick Swanson, dean of instruction at Sandhills, said UNCP is a partner in the community college's mission.
"At Sandhills we do everything we can to support the higher education needs of the people in our community," Swanson said. " Part of this effort has been to actively partner with UNC Pembroke in support of bachelor's and master's level classes delivered here on our campus and elsewhere in the community."
"We have been thrilled with the cooperation and proud of the members of our community who have taken advantage of the opportunity provided by UNC Pembroke to complete upper-level and graduate degrees," he said.
Rebecca Roberts, coordinator of UNCP at Sandhills, is a key component of the partnership. Roberts said the elementary education cohort was a symbol of the effectiveness of the partnership.
"Many of these teachers were enrolled their first two years at Sandhills Community College, and now they are back at SCC getting their master's degrees," Roberts said. "We're so excited about this."
It takes the cooperation of many individuals, departments and institutions, Dean Baker said, and UNCP is committed to offering quality programs at Sandhills.
"The School of Education has embraced distance education as alternative route through which students can successfully complete their masters degree," Dr. Baker said. "Our relationship with Sandhills Community College has proven very successful in meeting some the region's need for graduate work in elementary education, reading and school administration."