WWU, Davis forge strong bonds

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Walla Walla University has been fortunate to count Davis Elementary School as one of its “next door” neighbors for more than 100 years.

And, as it turns out, our ties with College Place’s elementary school extend far beyond sharing the same street for more than a century.

In 1903, Walla Walla University’s parent organization, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, sold four lots to the newly formed College Place School District #45 for $237.50. At the time, the university was in its infancy, having opened just 11 years earlier with 101 students

Now, College Place citizens will mark another new beginning when Davis Elementary opens its new school building in the fall of 2014. I congratulate College Place public school administrators and educators for this accomplishment. It takes monumental effort to plan, fund and build a facility.

With the construction of a new physical infrastructure comes the opportunity to reflect on the school’s intellectual infrastructure: the needs of its students and its community.

Chris Drabek, principal of Davis Elementary, has described the design of this new building as one that will foster collaboration as well as differing learning styles.

Collaboration is a key concept in educational circles, including higher learning.

In recent years, Davis Elementary School has increasingly served as a community partner in providing hands-on learning experiences for our education students. We are looking forward to building this mutually beneficial relationship with the dedicated individuals we work with at Davis, including these educators:

• Drabek has been outstanding in working with us to place our student teachers in Davis classrooms every year, in addition to teaching graduate-level courses for our School of Education and Psychology.

• Lori Kissinger, the school district’s learning specialist, has given instruction and guidance to our candidates in the area of reading assessment and has been kind enough to give them practice sessions with Davis students for several years.

• Elissa Aguilar, the third-grade teacher of English-language learners from the Farm Labor Homes, has encouraged our teacher candidates to an amazing degree by providing a lab twice a year for candidates to practice using literacy strategies with the children. She even took one of our candidates, who was struggling, under her wing and helped him prepare for the state mathematics test, coaching him to victory.

We too endeavor to support educators by providing professional instruction — such as graduate courses and other professional resources, so teachers can stay current with research in their fields — as well as offering resources for general education in the community.

For instance, Professor Tamara Randolph, working with Mariela Rosas from Children’s Home Society, has developed themed summer camp activities at the Farm Labor Homes for reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing-to-view for the same English-language learners who attend Davis and Meadow Brook during the school year.

Professor Debbie Muthersbaugh has arranged for her education students to organize a science corner in Smith Hall to conduct experiments and activities for Davis School classes.

Also, last year, WWU elementary science students “adopted” the Children’s Museum of Walla Walla, providing Sunday workshops on topics such as nutrition and astronomy as part of their course community learning opportunities.

Reading/language arts students planned two special events at the museum with puppet shows, food, and learning games. Additionally, nearly 80 WWU students and staff took part in Davis’ mentoring program.

Student-teacher placements at Davis — and all Walla Walla Valley public and private schools — provide another valuable exchange.

We continue to receive positive feedback about the student-teacher candidates’ involvement in classrooms, offering assistance to teachers, getting involved in extracurricular school activities, and providing additional one-on-one support for students in their classrooms.

Thank you to all Walla Walla educators for providing these learning experiences for our student-teacher candidates so they may become top educators in their own right.

It’s been said that good fences make good neighbors, but in our experience, it’s when we tear down those fences that true collaboration and achievement can flourish.

We look forward to continuing our relationship with Davis Elementary School and hope to forge similar ties with other community partners — our neighbors — in the years to come.

John McVay is president of Walla Walla University.

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