By Callie Hietala
A number of new courses will be available to Martinsville students next school year, reflecting the growing diversity of the city’s student population and needs of the community.
Angilee Downing, assistant superintendent for instruction, along with other personnel, presented the division’s new program of studies to the city’s school board at its March 14 meeting.
Among the new offerings to students are additional language classes and credit options, courses focused on African and African American studies, and additional career and technical education (CTE) courses to help students prepare to enter the workforce, Downing said.
She explained that, as students began to return to full-time in-person learning, school administrators took time to “really look at our demographics, our schools, our populations and ask, what are the needs and are we meeting the needs” of students.
One result of those discussions was the creation of additional course offerings for students planning to enter the workforce after graduation.
Shauna Hines, coordinator of STEAM, (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), CTE, and Fine Arts, said the division is building on its existing partnership with Patrick & Henry Community College to offer new options for students, including Certified Nurse Aid (CNA). When that course is successfully completed, students will take an assessment test and, if they pass, will become a licensed CNA able to immediately enter the workforce.
Hines said another course offering will be a criminal justice academy for those interested in joining law enforcement, public safety, or similar careers.
The division will offer precision machining, training students for skilled jobs like welding which are both high-paying and, she said, “very needed.”
Downing noted that Martinsville “has quite the reputation for advanced manufacturing,” and classes like precision machining came about from looking at the needs of the community, business partners, and students.
Hines said she is looking for additional classes to offer students through P&HCC.
African Studies and African American Studies are two of the new elective classes offered to high school students. Cary Wright, coordinator of humanities and advanced programs, said the elective, mandated by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) was ready last fall, but the school did not have instructional staff to implement it – an issue he hopes will be resolved over the summer, which would allow the course to be offered in the fall.
According to documents related to the new program of study on the VDOE website, in August 2019, then-Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order creating the African American History Education Commission, which was charged with examining the teaching of African American history in Virginia’s public schools. Northam also directed the department to work with partners that included public school educators, university historians, and college professors, to develop a new African American history course for high school students.
“It’s a fantastic program,” Wright said, and added that school staff are excited to offer it to students.
To address an increasing population of non-native English speakers, Downing said the division will offer English as a Foreign Language I & II.
“We have students who, English is not their native language and they’re new to the country,” Downing said. “For them it is a world language,” no different than the French, Spanish, or other languages that are a more familiar part of high school curricula.
According to the program of studies handbook, the class is only available to students whose native language is not English and have been in the country less than 12 months. Students need administrator approval in order to take the course.
Dr. Tamara Vaughn, coordinator of academic interventions, Title III, foreign language, and mentoring, discussed with the board the division’s credits for demonstrated proficiency which, she said, enables students who have learned foreign languages outside of their regular studies or are bilingual, to earn language credits without taking a class. Those students may take a state-approved test and, depending on their score, earn school credit.
“We’re seeing our demographics changing … especially at the high school level,” Vaughn said.
Data from the 2020 census indicates that Martinsville has seen an increase in the number of people who identify as Hispanic or Latino, nearly doubling over the last decade. The 2010 census found that 4 percent of the city’s population identified as Hispanic or Latino, compared to 7.6 percent in 2020.
Additionally, 2020 data shows the majority of Martinsville’s population, 45.2 percent, is Black, while 43.9 percent is white. Another 5.7 percent of the city’s census respondents identified as multiracial.
Downing said staff is looking forward to offering the slate of new programs to students. “We want all of them to have access and all of the skills they need to accomplish their dreams.”
She said there also have been in discussions with New College Institute (NCI) “to see how can we expand opportunities for our students. How can we bring what the community has to offer to our students?”
Schools Superintendent Dr. Zebedee Talley said, “I’m glad we’re not gatekeeping, just forcing students to take certain things. They have options, they have choice, and they have variety.”
“We do not gatekeep,” Downing said. “We try to push our students to do more than they think they can do.”
In other matters, the board:
*Heard from Michael Haley, owner of Uptown Pinball, about the history and growing popularity of his arcade. He estimated more than 100,000 people have been to the arcade since it opened.
*Heard from English teacher Ryan Brent and Wright about freshman Vex Miller who recently won the Eastman Oratorical Contest.
*Heard from Bobby Martin, who was recently named WSLS Coach of the Year.
*Heard from Lynwood Dodson who presented state indoor track winner Rickyah Mitchell-Hairston.
*Recognized the division’s teachers of the year: Ronnell Penn (Clearview Elementary), Jasmine Hairston (Albert Harris Elementary), Kristin Moorefield (Patrick Henry Elementary), Robin Fletcher (Martinsville Middle), and Kristen Scott (Martinsville High).
*Heard from the principals of Albert Harris Elementary and Patrick Henry Elementary about recent events and projects.
*Heard from Shauna Hines on the 2022 musical, “Aladdin Jr.” which will be performed April 1 and 2 at 7 p.m., and April 3 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door and are available online at www.mcpsfinearts.org.
*Approved the consent agenda.
*Unanimously approved a request from Dr. Paulette Simington, executive director of special education and student services, to apply for Title VI federal funds through the special education annual plan. Simington said the division is required to apply for the funds through the Virginia Department of Education. Simington said this year, the school was requesting $592,247, up from last year’s request of $577,998. The funds include salaries, benefits, purchased services, travel, and professional development for 3 special education teachers and 13 special education paraprofessionals and materials and supplies for special education.
*Unanimously approved the request from Simington to apply for $7,234 early special childhood education funds to cover instructional materials and supplies for preschool aged students that qualify for speech services not currently enrolled in the early childhood program at Clearview.
*Heard the superintendent’s report.
March 15: Piedmont Governors School meeting
March 26: middle and high school regional band concert at Martinsville High School
April 4: next regular board meeting
April 11-18: spring break (schools closed)