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Huge grant brings university students to Holmes Elementary

A $500,000 state grant will benefit those studying to become teachers at Whitworth and Gonzaga universities, as well as teachers and students at Holmes Elementary School in West Central.

Spokane Public Schools staff developed the grant proposal together with education faculty at Gonzaga and Whitworth. It’s the first time a Collaborative Schools for Innovation and Success grant has been awarded to a Spokane school.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind experience,” said Stephanie Lundberg, principal assistant at Holmes and the grant manager. “We first started working on it in August and here we are.”

The CSIS grants are funded by the state and managed by the Office of Student and School Success. This grant will allow teaching students from Gonzaga and Whitworth to do a yearlong practicum at Holmes.

“This is based on the co-teaching model where we have a teaching student in the classroom, yet the master teacher never leaves the room,” said Steve Barnes, principal at Holmes. “Our students benefit because that means the teacher can do more one-on-one and small group teaching.”

Both Gonzaga and Whitworth currently support mentoring and tutoring programs in Spokane Public Schools. During the 2011 academic year, the two universities also placed more than 500 teaching students in Spokane schools.

“The idea that local universities and the largest school district on this side of the mountains are partnering to improve student learning and development at the elementary school and the universities is a powerful model,” said John Traynor, director of Gonzaga’s Master of Initial Teaching program. Traynor helped develop the grant.

Whitworth’s associate dean of teacher education and partnerships, Debbie Tully, said the grant allows the partners to capitalize on the good work that’s already taking place.

“The additional focus on developing innovative practices for simultaneous teacher preparation and professional development will benefit students in schools beyond the scope of the grant,” Tully said. “I am excited to be involved in this groundbreaking work.”

Where the universities provide motivated teaching students, Holmes provides a real picture of what it’s like being an elementary school teacher. At Holmes, more than 84 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and the school also has significantly more students with special needs than other Spokane schools.

“The teaching students will get to really experience what it’s like to teach at an inner city school,” said Barnes, adding that practical experience is essential to teaching students yet sometimes difficult to come by because many universities have closed their lab schools. “This will help the teaching students build capacity for the future.”

Washington State University provided the initial needs assessment at Holmes and the current academic year is a planning and preparation year, Lundberg said. Practicum students will begin to show up at Holmes at the beginning of next school year. It is possible practicum spots may be offered in other school departments such as the library and counseling services.

“It is very important to us that we build a model that’s sustainable,” Lundberg said. “When the grant goes away we want to be able to continue the partnership.”

Another part of the project is to reach out to local businesses and organizations.

“We want to make Holmes the hub for what’s going on in West Central,” said Lundberg, adding that West Central Community Center is an obvious partner just like other programs that already work with kids.

“We are pursuing a wrap-around aspect to make sure we better meet all the kids’ needs,” Lundberg said.