Wayland, Bowers recognized for longevity with education grant program

PLAINVIEW – Dr. J. Hoyt Bowers knows a little something about longevity. As a member of the Wayland Baptist University science faculty since 1963, he’s seen lots of things come and go at the college.

Bowers was recently recognized for his work with one particular program that is only half as old as his career at Wayland. Bowers and his wife, Joanne, received a plaque honoring their 20 years of involvement with the Teacher Quality Grants. Funded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and administered through the DANA Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the grants are set aside for programs that build the knowledge base of teachers in Texas, particularly in the areas of science and math.

At Wayland, the grants have funded the ASSIST program – the Academic Summer Science Institute for Secondary Teachers – which has been ongoing for 20 years. The university was recognized as the only school to consistently receive the grants for each year of the program’s existence. In some of those years, Wayland actually received two grants, one of which helped fund an elementary version of the program, called ASSET.

Bowers said he would never have imagined that the summer program developed by himself and fellow science professor Dr. Gerald Thompson would have lasted 20 years, especially in light of state funding issues.

“We figured we’d get three or four good years out of it and then move on, but it’s still going,” Bowers said.

After first learning of the grants in the mid-1980s, Bowers said he and Thompson sat down to flesh out a program that would help teachers in their subject areas, thereby helping students under their tutelage as well. The lengthy application process – including several pages worth of research, planning and evaluation methods – was rewarded with a grant that helped Wayland enroll its first ASSIST participants.

The third year of the program, Bowers said the university completed an application for a second grant to add the elementary component, taught primarily by Bowers’ wife Joanne, who previously was the science department head at Plainview High School. That grant was also received, and continued for several years until the program was discontinued. But the secondary portion has been continuous since that first year.

The grant pays for the tuition and fees, books and supplies for the participating ASSIST teachers, along with a stipend, mileage pay, money for lunch and childcare if needed while at the classes. It also allows the teachers to attend the state science teachers’ conference and provides other materials. The funding covers a director – Bowers’ role – and an evaluator after the courses, a role Dr. Bobby Hall (now academic vice president at Wayland) has filled. The university pays for the instructors’ salaries and provides the classroom space and utilities.

Over the 20 years, Bowers estimates the grants have totaled just over $2 million, with nearly $1 million coming into the general fund at Wayland for the tuition and fees of the students.

The program has very specific goals.

“We are charged with giving teachers help in content areas,” he explained. “We look at the weak areas in the schools based on the TAKS scores and plan a course that fits what they most need. The areas where the students are weak help indicate where the teachers are weak.”

By design, the course is unlike any other collegiate offering. The teachers learn specific exercises they can take back to their classes, taught using hands-on instruction so they’ve been through the drills themselves. The classes are held one Saturday each month through the school year and daily for three weeks during the summer. Participants can earn eight hours of college credit each year, eventually culminating in a master’s degree if they wish.

At the conclusion of each course, participating teachers have a notebook full of ideas and materials for their classrooms along with knowledge of how to use the new information. The teachers are armed with new methodologies as well as an increased confidence in their abilities.

The unique program has been successful academically as well as financially, and Bowers said the benefits have been seen in several areas.

“We didn’t see this as a recruiting tool when we started it, but we’ve had numerous teachers bring their students here to look over what we do here, and encourage their students to come to Wayland to study science,” Bowers said. “It’s also kept us in touch with the area schools and the people there and what they need. It’s a good working relationship and a win-win-win situation.”