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May 9, 2007
College Alliance Praised

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A partnership between the New College Institute (NCI), Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) and Radford University to offer area science teachers an endorsement in earth science could become a national model.

"This is a red-letter day," Dr. Barry Dorsey, executive director of the NCI, said during a news conference held to announce the partnership.

"Virginia school systems and certainly the regional systems in Southern Virginia need additional teachers endorsed in specific science and math areas. The most critical need in science is earth science," he said.

The unique partnership announced Tuesday "may well become a national model ... to help meet the needs of public schools. I think about what a great opportunity this will be. It's very likely we will have the best prepared earth science teachers in the state right here" in Martinsville and Henry County, Dorsey added.

The New College will underwrite or partially subsidize the two-year earth science endorsement program "Dig in to Science!" using grants from the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, Dorsey said.

The series of five graduate courses will focus on Standards of Learning (SOLs) for grades five, six and nine, with classes that include minerals, rocks, river systems, slopes, glaciers, tsunamis, fossils and geologic time.

Sessions will begin this fall at the New College with labs held at the museum. Participants also will take field trips to geological sites in Virginia.

Some VMNH staff members will become adjunct faculty members of Radford and teach the classes, at least during the first part of the endorsement program.

It is not known if instructors from Radford will travel to Martinsville to teach the second portion or if additional VMNH faculty will lead those classes.

Radford President Penelope Kyle said NCI is a second home to her.

Because she comes from a family of educators, education also is "near and dear to my heart. ... To be able to bring a program here to help teachers is something I'm proud of," Kyle said of the earth science endorsement program.

Teachers participating in the classes will earn 20 credit hours that can be applied toward a graduate degree, Kyle said.

Stephen Lenhart, chairman of Radford's geology department, will coordinate its participation in the program, which he said "will serve as a template," or model, for future endeavors.

With room for other endorsements, Lenhart said, "we can foresee this template working many times over" in the future.

When introducing Tim Gette, executive director of the museum, Dorsey said that facility's cooperation is critical to the project because it "brings resources and experts here that otherwise" would only be found in more populated areas.

"We are extremely pleased to be a part of this project," Gette said, adding "this is what a good museum is all about" with respect to working with other organizations and spreading knowledge.

Museum faculty who will teach the classes include Dr. Nick Fraser, director of research and collections and curator of vertebrate paleontology; Dr. James Beard, curator of earth sciences; and Dr. Alton Dooley, assistant curator of paleontology.

Virtually every time period is represented and "every major rock type" can be found in Virginia, Dooley said. He added that participants also will be taught how to present learning material to students.

"This is a unique project that's really not offered anyplace else," he said.

Those interested in participating in the endorsement program are invited to an informational session from 4 to 6 p.m. May 30 at the museum.

Participants are asked to e-mail to confirm attendance.