WV Catholic Schools Expand Partnership with Universities to Benefit Mind, Body

By Joyce Bibey WHEELING—The Cath-olic schools of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced an expanded partnership with Wheeling University and Franciscan University of Steubenville that provides innovative education strategies to benefit students across the state of West Virginia academically and physically. The diocesan schools initiated the original partnership last summer with universities for a remote one-on-one or group setting tutoring program that would be available to all Catholic schools in West Virginia. For 2021, the program continued and also extends to enrich students mentally and physically through a wellness program set up through the WU School of Physical Therapy. Dr. Carrie Abraham, Clinical Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at WU, is excited about the opportunity for her students and the diocesan school students; and sees it as a win-win. She added the material WU PT is providing promotes physical activity and mobility in the children which as we know has many physical, psychological and emotional benefits. “Our physical therapy students participate in service-learning experiences at the local, regional and international levels,” Abraham said. “During the time of COVID restrictions, we have had limited access to our community partners on all levels of our service-learning program which has required some creative thinking in order to provide our students with educational experiences necessary to meet curricular needs.  When this opportunity was proposed to us, it seemed to be a great fit.  Our Doctor of Physical Therapy students could provide education to and promote mobility in school age children and support the parochial school classroom teachers at the same time.” In conjunction with WU faculty small groups of PT students created class instruction on a recorded video platform for use by the DWC Catholic school students in compliance with the WVDE Wellness Standards K-12. The curriculum categories are flexibility/cardiovascular; Strength; and Balance/Coordination. “For the children in the classrooms, the videos promote physical activity and are geared towards the specific physical development of the child in their respective grade level,” she said.  “The videos also provide a means for teachers to promote physical activity at times when face to face classroom interaction is limited.  The benefits of physical activity for all ages are well known, but especially now, physical activity for young people who are social isolated can be a mental health boost as much as it is a physical one —and that is so important right now.” The program also reinforces the significance physical therapy mindfulness in our community. “This opportunity will help our students in seeing that their skills and knowledge can be impactful outside of the traditional clinic setting,” she said. “It highlights the role that they have in the realm of population and community health.   As health care professionals, they can assist their local community and the broader community at large with needs as they arise by thinking creatively and filling the gap with services that fall within their scope of practice.  We have seen the evolution of telehealth and virtual communication explode over the course of the past year which demonstrates to us that we are no longer bound by traditional means of health care delivery.  Students can see that engaging in community level health activities is just as important as the direct patient care they deliver in their practices.” Abraham said the pandemic has made us all think outside the box, “It has forced us to consider methods of achieving objectives that we might not ever have thought possible.  And, what we are seeing in many cases is that our creative solutions can bring about unexpected positive results.  And, even when they don’t, those seemingly failed attempts teach us something.  So, we reflect on them, grow from them and do better the next time!” —Talks between the universities and the WV Catholic schools began in June. Soon-to-be teachers at the two universities were then assigned to certain students, schools, and curriculum. The program has been flexible to allow students to meet virtually with their university mentors before school, during class breaks, and after school. Terry DiPiero, director of curriculum and instruction said the remote tutoring program with the universities was first set up “to address any learning gaps that have occurred due to schools moving to remote instruction last March and continuing into the 2020-21 school year.” Additionally, DiPiero added, “Additional targeted instruction can be provided on an individual basis, and as a supplement to classroom instruction.” Susan Poyo, Ed. D., director of education at Franciscan University of Steubenville, said her students will be better prepared for a dual learning environment – virtual and in-person. The program knocks down a lot of roadblocks that were necessary to fight the pandemic as safely as possible in the schools. The tutoring sessions are offered remotely by the future teachers to respect the diocesan schools’ COVID-19 safety precautions, which strictly limit people in the building to staff and students. “Having the ability to bring in qualified, well prepared, and impressive students from both Wheeling University and Franciscan University on a virtual platform was the ideal fit,” said Jennifer Hornyak, associate superintendent of technology for the diocese. “Because our Catholic schools around the state were fortunate enough to attend school five days a week for most of the fall, and now for our K-8 schools, tutoring has been able to take place daily,” Hornyak said. The partnership proves that even in a pandemic, good things can arise, Sherri Theaker, Ph.D., director of education and accreditation coordinator at Wheeling University, emphasized, noting the remote tutoring “is a perfect way for preservice teachers to gain valuable experience by building relationships with PK-12 students, assessing student needs, designing instruction, and managing students in an online learning environment.” “This collaboration between our DPT program and schools in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is a wonderful example of how Wheeling University works with the Diocese to provide educational assistance to young learners throughout the state. I am grateful to our physical therapy students for their creativity in preparing learning modules that will impact schools throughout the Diocese,” said Ginny R. Favede, president of Wheeling University. Furthering the success of the program, according to DiPiero, all three partners are from faith filled institutions, “Which brings about a strong obligation to see and find the good in all circumstances and across our curriculum.”

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