WBU faculty carry on tradition of summer ASSIST program

Release Date: April 29, 2009    

PLAINVIEW – It’s never easy to follow in the footsteps of legends. But that’s just what Dr. Elise Adamson and Dr. Tim Walsh have done in successfully securing a $220,000 Teacher Quality Grant from the state of Texas in order to continue the ASSIST program for teachers hosted by Wayland Baptist University.

ASSIST – the Academic Summer Science Institute for Secondary Teachers – was originally developed in 1985 by Dr. J. Hoyt Bowers and Dr. Gerald Thompson, now professors emeritus of biological sciences, after learning that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board was providing grants to fund special programs to help school teachers, particularly in shoring up their science and math skills.

The pair applied for the grant that year and received it, then continued to do so for the next 22 years – longer than any other university in Texas. With both retiring in 2008, though, the program needed new faculty members to carry the torch. Walsh and Adamson, both of whom have taught for the ASSIST program previously, decided it was a program worth preserving and agreed to be co-directors.

“We’re providing a really good service for the area teachers,” said Walsh, associate professor of geology. “There are many teachers who are in situations where they aren’t prepared, and that’s what this is all about.”

Adamson, associate professor of mathematics and physics, said the pair is already gearing up for the next cycle of coursework for the upcoming summer and terms, focusing specifically on physics. She said that training is particularly needed in the area.

“(Texas) high schools are going to a requirement of four years of science for students, beginning with May 2011 graduates,” she explained. “So they will need more teachers to do physics. Many already teach it but haven’t had a lot of training in it.”

Adamson noted that she taught some basic physics a few summers back for ASSIST, but this upcoming session involves a higher level to really prepare “teachers who don’t have the background for what they’re doing right now.”

Specifically, she mentions teachers of IPC – Integrated Physics and Chemistry – or middle school science, both of which incorporate plenty of physics skills to which few teachers have received much exposure.

Adamson noted that summer course, which begins June 29, includes basic physics skills but adds new technology and integrates videography and peer learning techniques to improve student learning in the sciences. She said the same cadre of new ideas for experiments in the classroom labs will be featured, and the class is very hands-on for teachers involved.

The ASSIST program is designed for high school physics or IPC teachers as well as middle school science teachers who have no certification in physics specifically, and it includes free tuition to Wayland, thanks to the grant. Participating teachers also receive a stipend of $600 for completion of the program and can earn up to 16 hours of graduate science course credit at WBU over the two years.

The program involves the three-week summer session, including six hours of classroom time per day, then continues for one Saturday per month in the Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 semesters, repeating in Summer 2010 and again in fall 2010 and spring 2011.

“The best part of this is that it doesn’t cost the teachers anything but their time,” Adamson said. “The grant covers the entire two-year program, including books and supplies.”

Walsh said the content of the ASSIST coursework is all driven by student test scores, and over the program’s 24 years, it has varied between biology, chemistry, earth sciences and botany.

“The way the grant is set up, we look at what disciplines the area schools have the greatest need for training,” he said. “This year, the four-year science requirement led us to do (physics). After they do testing again, we will look at what other needs might be.”

Dr. Thompson is beginning the second year of a program specifically focusing on plant studies, aimed at secondary teachers needing help in those areas. A few openings for that program are available for interested teachers. The class is scheduled during a different WBU summer session and on a different Saturday during the 2009-10 school year, so teachers could feasibly participate in both the plant biology and physics sessions. Contact Marilyn Edwards for more information on that program at (806) 291-1115.

Applications for the ASSIST physics program, which is limited to 20 students, are available by contacting Adamson at (806) 291-1129.