March 30, 2013

MIHS uses professional development to learn about the community

By Mimi Ensley Dalton Public Schools contributor

— Teachers and staff at Morris Innovative High School ventured out into the Dalton community recently to better understand how their students might experience the world.

The professional development day, held when students had a day off, sent small groups from MIHS to nine community agencies. Each group visited two agencies, and participants shared their findings upon returning to the school in the afternoon.

"We wanted to learn more about our students and our community,” said Julia Cagle, an MIHS English teacher. “We wanted to understand them.”

Principal Jennifer Phinney said one of the goals of the day was to help build an understanding of what it really means when faculty and staff talk about working with children of poverty.

Groups learned about the thousands of meals Providence Ministries provides each month. They saw the breadth of services and assistance the United Way of Northwest Georgia offers the Dalton community. They were encouraged by the positive atmosphere found at the Boys & Girls Club.

And when they returned to the school, they thought about how to use that information to influence their teaching and work with students.

“I was impressed by all of the resources that we have in the community,” said Coulter Redding, an MIHS English teacher. “I don’t think our faculty realized all of the organizations that this community has and all of the volunteer opportunities that this community has.”

Phinney said these agency visits drove home the importance of providing “experience learning” at school — getting students out of the building and into experiences they might not have otherwise.

“From my perspective, it helps me think about our school as a whole and think about what we are going to offer,” Phinney said. “What kinds of opportunities are we going to provide for students? What do I need to make available to them?”

As a result of thinking in this way, Phinney said, MIHS now offers experiential programs, such as dance classes, and excursions to nearby educational attractions, such as the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

“There’s no way to even measure the impact experiences like that have on people’s lives,” she said. “It enriches your life.”

Cagle said she also plans to use the information she gained through the professional development day to give her students experiences in the community.

“We were able to build community relationships with each visiting site,” she said. “This knowledge will be greatly important as we strive to help our students see the world outside of school and how they fit into the bigger picture.”

Agencies MIHS teachers and staff visited:

• United Way

• Mack Gaston Community Center

• Boys & Girls Club

• Providence Ministries

• Housing Authority

• GreenHouse

• Regional Youth Detention Center

• Oak Haven Girls Home

• Whitfield County Division of Family and Children Services