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|Efforts under way to bridge student-teacher culture gap|
The West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce will partner with the city of West Monroe, the University of Louisiana-Monroe and Ouachita Parish Schools to offer new teachers a day-long conference and a new, continuing education class aimed at providing new teachers with a better understanding of impoverished children.
"A Framework for Understanding Poverty" will be held Tuesday, Aug. 12, at the West Monroe Convention Center. Participating teachers will also be encouraged to enroll in a semester-long online course offered through ULM's continuing education department.
The online course will be administered by ULM instructor and former public school teacher Marilyn McIntosh.
"When you deal with teachers, most of whom come from middle-class backgrounds, who are placed in a school setting where the children don't come from that same background, there's a disconnect between the middle-class background from where the teacher comes and the impoverished situation where the students come from," said McIntosh.
The one-day conference and the ULM course should help provide teachers with a good foundation for interfacing with impoverished students, McIntosh said.
The conference and the class evolved after nine months of planning and research conducted by the West Monroe chamber, ULM and Ouachita Parish Schools.
West Monroe chamber president Mary Ann Newton said the need for the training McIntosh spoke of became apparent when the chamber began to get involved in schools on West Monroe's south side.
"As time went on, what we quickly found out was there were a lot of teachers who were having difficulty relating to poverty and the effects it has on children -- everything from neglect and abuse to one-parent households," Newton said.
One obstacle facing the school system entails new teachers asking for transfers from impoverished schools to other schools where students might hail from backgrounds similar to teachers. Often times, teachers who asked for transfers were initially enthusiastic about their jobs.
"So many of the young teachers were from middle-class homes and had just graduated from college and were placed in schools where they had no idea how to deal with these kinds of problems," Newton said.
So the chamber partnered with the City of West Monroe, the parish school system and ULM to start addressing those issues. With the help of corporate funding from Entergy and Community Trust Bank, Newton said the event has begun to grow, even in its first year.
Though teachers will be required to pay a fee to take the online class, Newton pointed out attendance to the conference is free, save for $10 for lunch.
Also, Ouachita Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber said he has made participation in the ULM course mandatory for new teachers. The school system will be pay for the course.
The conference and the course are open to teachers from other areas. Some non-education participants are being encouraged to participate.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris said he wants members of the West Monroe Police Department neighborhood intervention team to sign up for the class. Also, he will encourage them to attend the conference.
Norris said he began to appreciate the value of the training for dealing with students from poorer backgrounds after attending events at schools in affluent neighborhoods and comparing that with the participation of students in poorer areas.
"The difference was so stark it made me understand something has got to be done to give all kids a good start," Norris said.
McIntosh called the one-day conference a "shot in the arm" and said she expected the semester of coursework would help teachers take the message to heart.
"Hopefully this class will help them take what they've learned and apply it to their classrooms," McIntosh said.