Video: Reading Education in Virginia

By Laura Hoxworth

In the latest installment of our Facebook Live series on online learning, Online Student Support Specialist Bernadette Poerio sat down for a chat with the Curry School’s Reading Education team. Associate Professor and Outreach Coordinator Ottilie Austin joined Bernadette in the studio, while assistant professors and off-Grounds coordinators Susan Thacker-Gwaltney (Tidewater region), Julie Gray (Richmond area), and Carrie Simkin (Northern Virginia) participated virtually via Zoom.

Together, they shared how the Curry School reading program collaborates with school divisions to provide tutoring and build the capacity of reading education throughout Virginia. Read a brief recap of the conversation or watch the full video below.

Cohorts Throughout Virginia

The reading program frequently works with cohorts, or groups of teachers who complete coursework together. These cohorts, often sponsored by their school or division, start programs at different times throughout the year in many locations around the state.

“What’s great is that the cohorts have been able to provide assessment diagnostic data for the kids that we tutor during the practicum courses, and we also provide free tutoring through those practicum courses,” said Simkin, who recently finished working with a cohort of 18 teachers from Arlington Public Schools. “So the school systems aren’t just getting knowledgeable teachers, but they also get the benefit of getting free assessment data and tutoring for a lot of their students.”

Many divisions budget the money and completely pay for the master’s degree, Austin said. Other cohorts complete non-degree programs that are tailored to a certain school’s needs in content or structure. “It’s when a school system is interested in providing some long-term support and knowledge-building for teachers,” said Simkin. “So we design a cadre of experiences and coursework for their teachers.”

Career Paths

Many regions in Virginia are currently facing a teacher shortage – particularly for reading specialists. “In Richmond, there’s a real need for reading specialists,” said Gray. In a recent Richmond-area cohort, “many were hired last year to fill in some gaps before they finished the program, so it definitely addressed a need,” she said.

The need extends to other parts of the state, as well. Austin said that several teachers in a current Rockingham County cohort have also secured reading specialist jobs before finishing the program. “It’s a great way for our school divisions to build capacity, and they’re also assuming a lot more leadership roles within their school and even on their grade-level teams as far as literacy is concerned,” she said.

Reading specialist positions are a typical career choice for graduates of the M.Ed. in Reading Education, but other options include classroom teaching, reading interventionist roles, and district-level coaching positions. Many graduates eventually go on to accept roles in central offices, overseeing literacy programs at the district or state levels.

Online Options

For teachers located throughout Virginia and beyond, the Curry School offers a fully online master’s program in Reading Education, as well as individual courses that can fulfill various professional development requirements. For students located near one of the regional centers, “You can also do more of a hybrid program, where some are face-to-face at the regional center and some are all online,” said Austin.

In all of its programs and courses, the Reading Education team values the close partnerships that it has built with schools and divisions throughout the Commonwealth. “Our final clinical courses are always face-to-face where our teachers work with students in our summer tutorial,” said Austin. “Those are always hosted at a school, so we do end up serving a lot of kids in the area.”