Students from Louisa County schools who are interested in the teaching profession are hired to work at the Little Lions Learning Lab. 

Louisa County has implemented a new program at their schools that emulates JMU’s Young Children’s Program. This partnership has allowed Louisa County schools to develop the Little Lions Learning Lab, which hires students from Louisa County Public Schools who are interested in the teaching profession.

Teresa Harris, JMU’s department head of early elementary and reading education, had the Louisa County program initiators visit the YCP, where they decided to do something similar in Louisa County. After this meeting, Harris connected them with Donald Wilson, an assistant professor in the college of education at JMU.

They looked at the curriculum for the new program and best practices in teaching and physical environments, and then created a policy and procedures handbook for it. With the help of Doug Straley, the superintendent of Louisa County schools, and Kenneth Bouwens, the director of Career and Technical Education, Science Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math and Innovation of Louisa County schools, and others, the Little Lions Learning Lab was officially implemented this past August.

Bouwens said the Virginia Department of Education granted Louisa County $50,000 to implement this new program. This helped the program coordinators buy new materials, furniture, educational equipment and toys for the new space.

“This program provides high-quality childcare, employs teachers from the Louisa County school division and serves as a training ground for students in the career and technical education program who are thinking about careers as teachers in the future,” Wilson said.

The students who are in the career technology education program at Louisa County schools will be able to graduate with their Child Development Accreditation certificate, which they’ll be able to use as they enter the workforce in a childcare center or preschool. These students could also go into the associate’s degree program at one of the Virginia community colleges and then attend JMU’s Bachelor of Instructional Science two-year program, which certifies them to teach pre-k to third grade.

Bouwens said “the program is creating a pipeline pathway starting at Louisa and moving onto community college, then to JMU and then back to teaching for Louisa County Public Schools.” 

He said they offer the childcare service to existing staff, which helps the teacher shortage crisis while also giving children a robust environment because the program is education-based.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, 11% of Virginia teachers planned to leave the profession in 2018, compared to the national average of 7.3%.

“In a perfect world, we would excite students who didn’t think they were interested in the teaching profession and maybe create a passion in them for education,” Bouwens said.

Doug Straley said that this program is addressing a country-wide issue.

“The whole idea behind it is that there really is a critical teacher shortage across the country, and it’s a situation where we’ve gotta make sure we’re going to have great teachers,” Straley said. “You know, if you want to be great, you’ve got to have great people.”

Straley said that to ensure Louisa County schools have adequate teachers, they ask themselves if there are “any innovative things we can do to try to keep the staff we have, attract more teachers to Louisa County and build our own teacher pipeline?” 

Straley and Bouwens said they believe that this new program will help with the teacher and childcare shortage by giving other students experience in their particular field, which will drive their passion along to college and then hopefully back to the county to teach.

“We are opening up the opportunity to grow our own teachers and that’s what this is all about,” Straley said.

Contact Isabela Gladston at gladstia@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.