Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS), in partnership with Longwood University, received a grant totaling $24,000 for the development of the New Beginnings Mentor Program, a new teacher mentorship program that will provide holistic support to the district’s first-year teachers.
Dr. Michelle Wallace, PECPS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said she is excited to partner with Longwood on this unique experience.
“When new teachers start their careers, it can be overwhelming,” Wallace said. “We look forward to working with clinical faculty members from Longwood who will be providing support to these teachers like no other.”
Longwood faculty and staff members will serve as clinical faculty who will facilitate evidence-based training sessions focused on classroom management, trauma-informed support to students, use of assessment data in instructional decision-making, connecting families with resources, and more. Those efforts will complement work by the district, including mentoring, professional development, and community building. The mentoring piece is particularly important: a current PECPS teacher will partner with each new teacher to provide support as they develop skills and gain experience.
Wallace collaborated with Longwood’s Office of Teacher Preparation and Assistant Director Jennifer Whitaker on initial grant development. Jeanine Garrett, PECPS Coordinator of Teaching and Learning, is managing the program.
Whitaker emphasized the importance of mentorship during the transition period.
“It’s a way of trying to help them in that first year of teaching, when it can be difficult… and another topic was taking care of yourself as an educator, making time for yourself, too,” she said. “We can’t give anything if our cup isn’t full.”
The competitive grant was funded by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). To achieve their mission to “advance equitable and innovative learning” among its 132 schools divisions, VDOE provides a variety of grants to aid both teachers and students, including the grant awarded to PECPS for the New Beginnings Mentor Program.
PECPS and Longwood have a history of providing similar support for pre-service teachers. The availability of grant funds allowed the partners to build on that success and extend programming for full-time teachers. The key goals of the effort are to support new teachers in better serving the individual needs of their students and to increase retention of teachers within the district.
“Teacher retention across the nation is at an all-time low,” Wallace said. “We are hoping that this program will equip teachers with skills to help them in the classroom and to experience the rewards that this profession can bring from seeing students learn, grow and be successful. We also want new teachers to understand that they will be able to meet students’ needs better when their own needs are met through self-care.”
In a time in which teacher shortages have affected education systems nationwide, teacher retention has increasingly become a priority in Prince Edward County. The New Beginnings Mentor Program focuses on teachers in areas with critical shortages within the district, including Special Education, Career and Technical Education, and Elementary Education, among others. Whitaker believes that this program’s retention goals will not only benefit the schools, but the students and community as well.
“If they can train their teachers and retain them, it’s in the best interest of the community,” she said. “They’re getting experience in the school division. They’re developing relationships in the community, with students, with parents, creating rapport with faculty, and with their peers as well. It becomes easier teaching the longer you’ve done it, so when a division can keep teachers, they become more experienced,”
If the implementation of the mentorship program is successful, Longwood and PECPS will seek to expand the program to other counties within the region in hopes of managing the teacher shortage.
Whitaker noted that the region has a high teacher vacancy rate. “Longwood is known for excellent education programs, and we’re known for being a university that produces good teachers, so what can we do to help them and support them?” she said.
“We are hoping that this program will be the start of something that will continue to grow in future years,” Wallace added.