Teachers, administration and staff at Westmoreland County Public Schools opening day embraced the motto, “We Graduate Students,” an effort to reduce the 7 percent dropout rate at Washington and Lee High School’s class of 2013.
Wes James, a science teacher who has taught in Westmoreland County since the 1977 reminded teachers that while the goal was to graduate all students, the class of 2013 dropout rate equaled 11 students who started ninth grade, but did not make it to graduation. He went on to say that while this was a problem, the fix was not to lower standards, but to raise performance of students.
He asked teachers select, or allow themselves to be selected, by at least six students for a mentor relationship and to get to know the students beyond just what they see in the classroom. The reminder was added to pick, not just the easy ones, but perhaps some of the students that are harder to love. James stated that students who knew teachers cared were more inclined to work hard, open up and make it across the finish line of graduation.
A few sentences, a paragraph or the “dreaded” essay should be included on all tests, he said. His final thought was that all teachers need to work with their students to teach them to speak with respect, to teachers, adults, and one another.
James was a 2008 Teacher of the Year and was named Distinguished High School Chemistry Teacher by the Virginia Section of the American Chemical Society in 2009.
Division Superintendent Dr. Rebecca Lowery introduced the 2012-2013 district-wide Teacher of the Year, Jocelyn Maier. In accepting her award, Maier, a fifth grade teacher at Cople Elementary, spoke of the need to help students reach the school systems stated theme of “Big Dreams, Big Goals, and the Support to get there.”
Montross Middle School teacher Rebecca Beale followed James’ speech with a connected one giving her thoughts on how graduating students begins before high school. She stated that students begin to look toward their future while in middle school.
Beale discussed the need for high expectations at that age, while helping the students to learn to be respectful to one another. She then introduced Cople Elementary fifth grade teacher Natasha Tate.
Tate directed her speech toward third through fifth grade, when students attitudes toward school and whether or not they enjoy it are set. She spoke of the receptiveness of students saying, “Children are like wet cement, whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
“Young children will tell you everything,” said Tate , emphasizing the need to form a relationship with students. She said that was the “ideal time to get to know the child, the individual, not the student.”
Lori Pegelow, Kindergarten teacher at Washington District spoke on how graduating students begins with the youngest, the kindergarten through second grade children. Pegelow said it was an honor to instill a lifelong love of learning and school in youngsters and on how teaching was a calling and a chance to help the world.
Athletic Director Malcolm Lewis, said all students need to find a way to be involved.
“It’s fun going to school, when you have another avenue for success,” he said.
These avenues include everything from a sport to drama to band or any activity that keeps students connected with their school on a level beyond the basic school day, he said.
“If students belong to something it gets them across that stage,” he said.
A total of twenty-six new teachers were introduced for the division. They range from newly graduated to veterans. Some are W&L alumni, others had never heard of Westmoreland County prior to applying, but all are looking forward to the 2013-2014 school year at WCPS.