Highlands Awarded Grant for Teacher Education

Belinda Laumbach

Belinda Laumbach

Las Vegas, N.M. — The New Mexico Highlands University School of Education was awarded a state grant for Memorial Middle School teachers to pursue advanced degrees at Highlands.

The $80,000 New Mexico Department of Higher Education grant will fund the university’s new FAST program, or Friday Academy for Standards-Based Teaching, as well as an ongoing professional development program for middle school teachers.  

The FAST Program will fund 12 hours of graduate credit hours at Highlands in the 2013 — 2014 school year for 22 Memorial Middle School teachers who hold bachelor’s degrees.

Belinda Laumbach, School of Education interim dean and Center for Professional Development director, authored the grant along with new education professor Craig Castleman. Laumbach credits Castleman with developing the concept for FAST.

“Las Vegas City Schools was chosen as a partner to participate in FAST because the district has a four-day workweek, and teachers are required to participate in professional development on some Fridays,” Laumbach said. “The purpose of the FAST program is to improve classroom instruction for students while also increasing teacher enrollment in graduate courses leading to either a master’s degree at Highlands or new endorsements in reading, math, science or TESOL — teaching English to speakers of other languages.”

This fall semester, the teachers will take two courses on Fridays at Highlands, including instructional strategies and mentoring, and advanced educational psychology. Spring semester 2014, the courses will include principles of curriculum construction and social-cultural factors affecting education.

“This grant provides a wonderful opportunity for teachers because this kind of funding for their higher education hasn’t been available in years,” Laumbach said. “We at Highlands have an important role in preparing local teachers who in turn prepare future citizens of our community. It’s very gratifying to be able to help remove financial barriers for teachers so they can continue their education, and feel supported for their hard work.”

Laumbach said the FAST program is an expansion of the existing School of Education professional development program for middle school teachers called STARS ­ — Student and Teacher Achievement Through Research-Based Strategies. Middle school-age children have unique developmental and educational needs.

Now in its fourth year, the STARS program presents a summer Middle Level Institute for middle school teachers. Laumbach also provides ongoing training for participating teachers in their classrooms during the school year. Seven New Mexico school districts participate in STARS, including Las Vegas City Schools and West Las Vegas School District.

The new state Department of Higher Education grant also helps fund STARS, which also receives ongoing support from the Highlands University Foundation.

In a letter of support for the School of Education’s grant proposal, Las Vegas City Schools Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez wrote: “We support your efforts enthusiastically. The FAST/STARS program will provide teachers with the opportunity to learn and apply scientifically based instructional strategies, and improve their understanding of the most current concepts in educational psychology, multicultural education, reading, curriculum development, and assessment.

“The program will also assist middle level teachers in mastering the state Common Core Standards. We believe that this model of professional development will not only benefit teachers, but will lead to improved academic performance by students. We anticipate that this work will be of great benefit to our students, our teachers, and our schools,” McNellis-Martinez wrote.