The classroom for student teachers at UVA Wise is getting ready to expand by a few Welsh campuses and castles.
Three University of South Wales (USW) staff spent a week getting to know UVA Wise—its faculty, campus, surrounding region and partner secondary schools—in preparation for a new teacher education study abroad program between the two academic institutions.
The first students from Wales are expected this fall and UVA Wise students may cross the Atlantic next spring.
“I am so excited about this new partnership,” said Andy Cox, UVA Wise director of teacher education and associate professor of education. “It amazes me that even though we are separated by over 3,500 miles, we are doing such similar things in preparing new teachers.”
Earlier this month, Cath Jones, USW head of research development and pedagogic practice, Linda Davidge-Smith, USW head of initial teacher education, and Sallyann Seaward, USW senior lecturer in initial teacher education, toured the College’s campus.
“It’s been brilliant to meet people personally, and I think what we've noticed most is what connects us. There are so many similarities between what we're doing within our university with what's happening in Wise,” Jones said. “It’s a valid sort of experience of what it might be like for our students, and perhaps staff, to come on exchange as well.”
The proposal will create a four-week study abroad program, including the opportunity to work with K-12 students in both Wise and Wales.
The exchange partnership is the product of Cox’s two-month fall sabbatical to both the USW and the University of Oxford where he studied best practices to further enhance UVA Wise’s teacher education program and discover opportunities for international exchange. UVA Wise already offers a robust teacher education program—having offered K-12 teacher certification for more than 50 years and graduating about 35 students each year.
When offered study abroad programs in the past, Cox’s students voiced concerns about living in large cities with unfamiliar cultures, language barriers and leaving for a full semester.
“I wanted to find a school that mirrors our school where students could relate to their surroundings, but could also have the amazing experiences that come along with an international study abroad,” Cox said.
Cox contacted Jamie James, head of the School of Education, Early Years and Social Work at the USW.
“It was clear talking to Andy how well aligned our values are and what we are seeking for students: to give a sense of self in the wider world and their place in their profession, and a platform on which to be confident,” James said.
When Cox visited the University of South Wales, a regional educational institution with three main campuses serving 25,000 students, he thought it seemed like a perfect fit. South Wales matches well with UVA Wise—the university is dedicated to the Wales region, has a similar socio-economic population, speaks the same language, and the campus values natural landscapes in the same way UVA Wise cherishes the mountains. Among South Wales’ campuses are the Treforest, campus, the former school of mines, while others are in cities and rural villages all within a short distance from beaches.
“The UVA Wise students would get different experiences through the different campuses,” Seaward said. “There’s public transportation, buses, living history and big museums, and we’ve got our local castles, which we take for granted, but I think the students would love that historical aspect.”
During their visit, USW staff met with key UVA Wise stakeholders including Chancellor Donna P. Henry, Provost Trisha Folds-Bennett, Director of international programs Witold Wolny and education department faculty.
They also held sessions with other departments, interns and current UVA Wise international students from Germany and Spain. They took in many Southwest Virginia cultural and outdoor attractions including: High Knob Observation Site, Flag Rock Recreational Area and the Barter Theater.
“To be right in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, going up to High Knob, and being able to see the different states from that view has made this trip so much more,” Davidge-Smith said. “I think we've got a much better understanding of what we need to do as a partnership, how amazing this experience could be for students, and what it can do for their life chances when it comes to employability.”
The Wales group also met faculty, mentor teachers and students at Wise Primary School, Norton Elementary School and Union Primary School—anticipated partners in the exchange abroad program. The incorporation of school, sports and community made a big impression on the visitors, Davidge-Smith said.
“Community spirit is very evident here as it is in Wales—the relationships between people,” Davidge-Smith said. “What goes on in the classrooms, the strategies for teaching, pedagogical principles, children discipline are all similarities. It was like stepping into one of our schools.”
“I think students from both institutions have a wonderful opportunity to travel abroad for four weeks and make a difference with children in another country. Cath, Sallyann and Linda are educators of the highest character, and they love helping students succeed,” Cox said. “I am confident in saying any student who gets a chance to travel to Wales to work with the USW faculty and the children of Wales will have a wonderful life-changing experience.”