The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has approved a Master of Education degree program in Reading, Literacy and Learning at Longwood University.

The new degree evolved from Longwood’s graduate-level Literacy and Culture program, currently a concentration under the Master of Science in education, which prepares teachers to be reading specialists and literacy coaches. The stand-alone program, the second Longwood M.Ed. program approved recently, will be offered for the first time this fall. It was approved May 20.

"This is a solid, up-to-date program that was made even stronger by the rigorous SCHEV process, in which we rewrote every syllabus and incorporated the latest research in best practices," said Dr. Gretchen Braun, professor of education and program coordinator. "The new name reflects the expanded definition of literacy and expanded role of reading specialists."

The Literacy and Culture program, which dates to 1976, had 69 students during the spring semester. About half are part-time students, most of whom are full-time teachers who take their courses off campus and earn a master’s degree in 2-1/2 to 3 years. Full-time students can graduate in three semesters.

Three years ago, the program began recruiting students who had just received their bachelor’s degrees at Longwood and were preparing to teach elementary school. In this option, which is increasingly popular, students can earn a master’s degree the following May by entering the summer after graduating.

"This program makes students extremely valuable to school divisions because after teaching for three years—you’re not officially designated a reading specialist until you’ve taught three years—they can either stay in the classroom or become a reading specialist," said Braun. "This gives them tremendous flexibility."

Every Virginia elementary school must have a reading specialist. Literacy coaches perform a slightly different role, primarily working with teachers. "It’s the same preparation and the same certification, just a different way their skills are used," said Braun.

Most full-time students in the program are substitute teachers, which is a "wonderful connection" that enables them to build relationships with their school division, said Braun. "Many are offered [teaching] jobs before graduating from the program."

All courses for part-time students are a combination of face-to-face and online instruction, called hybrid, and are currently offered in Chesterfield, Powhatan and Spotsylvania counties, where students go through the program as a group.

In addition to Braun, who earned her master’s degree at Longwood, the program’s other faculty member is Dr. Wendy Snow, assistant professor of education and previously a reading specialist in the Bedford County schools.

Longwood’s first M.Ed., in school librarianship, was approved March 18 by SCHEV. It is the first such program at a public institution in Virginia.

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