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Fauquier teachers participate in state-wide excellence program

Wednesday, Jul. 16 | By Hannah Dellinger
Two Fauquier County teachers are participating in the inaugural year of the highly selective Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching (VCET) professional development program.

Katie Demello from Liberty High School and Lisa Testa from Brumfield Elementary were selected as two of 100 of Virginia’s best teachers for the program. VCET launched this summer at George Mason University, where Demello and Testa spent a weekend in the dorms, immersing themselves in the learning opportunity with peers from all over the state.

“It sounded like a very good experience,” said Testa, who teaches STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) learning at Brumfield. “You put 25 teachers all in the same place from across the state and you hear so many different perspectives.”

There are four different academies with different focuses at VCET: STEM, interdisciplinary studies, fine arts and the humanities and language arts. Each academy allowed for 25 teachers to attend and are headed by leaders in prospective fields.

According to VCET project manager Jeff Davis, the program is funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Education in an effort to bring educational leaders together to network, brainstorm and develop an interest in becoming politically involved with educational legislation.

“I think that this program is important because it gives Virginia’s teachers in all regions a way to learn to collaborate with each other, to learn more about leadership and policy so that they can be advocates in their school divisions and at the state level,” said Davis. “With each cohort every year we hope that this helps improve instruction in state.”

After the weeklong session in the summer, the teachers participate in an online course in the fall. The teachers meet again in February to present the outcome of projects that they have been working on since the beginning of the program. After implementing the projects in their own schools, they share what they found to be effective.

Testa’s project for VCET is the design of a STEM team for Brumfield.

“Right now I’m designing a STEM team at my school, hopefully there will be one at each grade level,” said Testa. “The teams will be made up of teachers from each grade level and led by teachers with STEM backgrounds. They will share concepts, lessons and supplies and help teachers that want to try to start using STEM lessons within their own curriculum.”

Demello, who is a special education and mathematics teacher at LHS, is working on a project that looks at the benefits of different methods of co-teaching special education and general education students together in the same classroom.

“The project that I’m working on will look at co-teaching and how it effects special education students as well as general education students and the benefits for each,” said Demello. “It’s important to have students with different abilities in the same classroom together and to have an effective strategy on implementing co-teaching.”

Davis said that in its first year, VCET received 812 teacher applications. He believes that after the success of this year’s program, there will be even more interest in participation.

“We hope to do it again next year,” said Davis. “The grant comes from a contract with Virginia Department of Education, for this year. It is renewable for next three years. We are confident based on results and feedback so far that teachers are going to see this as outstanding professionally engaging opportunity and want to be a part of it.”

Both Testa and Demello say that VCET has been an engaging experience.

“I recommend that any teacher to apply to VCET,” said Demello. “It opened up so many opportunities for us. Not only meeting other educators, but meeting with senators and opened our eyes to so much.”

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