The College of Education at Pittsburg State is proof that in order to produce the best teachers, a university must be in tune with the K-12 students those teachers will serve.
With its Center for the Study of Poverty and Student Achievement (CSPSA) addressing issues that affect more than half of the population of schoolchildren in Southeast Kansas, PSU is preparing future teachers for the issues with which they'll be faced - as well as helping today's school district personnel find the right tools for success.
Created in 2007, the CSPSA provides research, training, and support to educators working in schools and communities affected by poverty. In those four years, the center has hosted a state conference, facilitated pilot projects with area schools, addressed students' commitment to graduation and completed research projects focused on teaching effectiveness.
"The center was designed to level the playing field so all children can learn, no matter their income level or background," said Dr. Marilyn Dishman-Horst, interim co-chair of Curriculum and Instruction Advanced Programs and the director of the CSPSA. "The hope is to ultimately enhance the training and experiences of our teacher candidates."
For the past three years, the center has collaborated with Five Mile Children's Camp in Quapaw, Okla., offering the "If I Had a Hammer" project, which has helped thousands of 6th graders from 23 regional school districts learn math, communication and teamwork skills through a prefabricated mock home build. The camp's program, which is provided by a grant from the William L. Abernathy Charitable Trust, also includes horseback riding, teambuilding exercises and a ropes course - leaving many students and teachers praising the program for its fun approach to learning.
Almost all of the participating schools, said Dishman-Horst, have a significant number of students on the free or reduced lunch program, indicating high levels of poverty. Helping them overcome those barriers to be able to learn effectively and commit to education, she said, is the key.
"The underlying theme of the day," said Dishman-Horst, "is the opportunity for students to develop intellectually, emotionally, and socially."