While students have been enjoying their summer break, many Itawamba County School District teachers spent part of their summer break being students.

“Many people believe teachers have an easy job where they are off three months in the summer and get all kinds of holidays throughout the year. That is just not the reality of being a teacher,” Itawamba County School District Curriculum Coordinator Sheryl Ewing said. “The majority of our teachers spend the summer attending classes themselves to prepare for the next school year.”

The school district offered local teachers a quintet of workshops over the summer: Phonics First; Digging Deeper into RI Standards for Literacy; Lessons That Make Math Stick; Teaching Math with Technology; and Teaching with Edulastic.

The new phonics program, Phonics First, is being implemented in kindergarten through second grades this year. Teachers spent four days learning the intense hands on approach to learning the new program. According to Ewing, it is a multisensory, systematic, structured, sequential, phonics-based, direct-instruction approach. It focuses on beginning, at-risk, struggling, learning disabled, dyslexic and ELL readers. Research shows it provides a strong foundation to help students become successful readers.

Digging Deeper into RI Standards for Literacy was a workshop to help teachers strengthen teaching strategies in reading comprehension.

The two-day workshop, Lessons that make Math Stick gave teachers strategies to better-engage students in mathematical practices and foundations. It emphasized a hands-on approach with manipulatives and strategies to help students understand math in a deeper fashion.

Teachers also gained knowledge in strategies to increase student engagement with lesson content using technology in the Teaching Math with Technology, and were trained to utilize the program Teaching with Edulastic to increase student engagement.

The school district is transitioning to the new reading program, “Wonders.” Teachers in grades kindergarten through third grades spent time this summer learning the new program.

Local teachers also participated in a number of workshops offered outside of Itawamba County’s school district. These included Tech to Go; Conservation Workshop; PreSchool Academy; and Cyber Foundations.

In the Tech to Go workshop, teachers enjoyed a week-long workshop engaging in hand-on activities with STEM. They worked in areas such as welding, electricity, and tool and die.

The multi-day Conservation Workshop included teachers working with soil and water testing.

Teachers learned new approaches to early childhood education in the Preschool Academy. According to Ewing the workshop is part of stronger efforts throughout the state. Itawamba County School District currently offers two preschool programs with teachers who trained in the latest methods of successful early childhood education.

The district will see the ICT I and ICT II programs switch to Cyber Foundations within the next couple of years. ICT teachers spent a week learning new methodology to make the switch to the new programs. Cyber Foundations will encompass areas such as programming, cyber security, robotics and data science.

Ewing said workshops like these are a part of broader efforts to emphasize the importance of career and technical education courses.

Itawamba County administrators also attended training over the summer. 2014 Mississippi Superintendent of the Year Dr. Chuck Benigno spent a day with area administrators and spoke on ways to increase school effectiveness.

According to Ewing, workshops like these help Itawamba’s teachers adapt to an ever-changing academic landscape.

“We have some of the hardest working teachers in our school district,” Ewing said. “They want to continually improve and use best strategies to help the students in their classrooms be successful.”

Itawamba County Superintendent of Education Trae Wiygul said that local teachers’ willingness to stay in classroom, even during “summer break,” is a testament to their dedication to the school district and its students.

“Our teachers and administrators want the Itawamba County School District to be the best it can be and there’s no reason we can’t be the best,” Wiygul said. “I want to see all of our schools be the best that we can be.”

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