Students in the College of Education and Human Development get valu-able, hands-on training in UofL’s five Signature Partnership Initiative (SPI) schools. These students not only take their education classes in dedicated classrooms within the local elementary, middle and high schools but also immerse themselves in a world where they one day will lead their own lessons.

A total of $6 million in donations from the Oxley Foundation, along with a $2.5 million match from the UofL Foundation, fund the CEHD programs in the SPI schools. Westport Middle School is the only SPI middle school, bridging the gap between the SPI elementary schools — J.B. Atkinson Academy, Cochran and Portland — and one high school, The Academy@Shawnee.

With a school system as large as Jefferson County Public Schools, it would be impossible to follow all the elementary students in SPI schools through to upper grades. However, many of the students who benefit from CEHD initiatives in elementary schools feed into Westport, where UofL’s involvement has helped stem the tide of teacher turnover and grow a more experienced workforce.

“It’s like growing your own,” said Penny Howell, associate professor of middle-level education and professor-in-residence at Westport Middle. Howell teaches classes such as “Teaching Middle School” in Westport one day a week. The rest of her time is spent on Belknap Campus.

UofL students at Westport who aspire to be middle school teachers say the immersive experience is crucial to their future success.

“Middle school, in particular, is a different breed of child and a different breed of human, so being able to interact with them one-on-one and seeing what a classroom looks like, it gave me a better idea of what I was getting myself into and what my career was going to look like,” education major Sarah Cottrell said.

Janet Cappiello covers student success for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She has more than 30 years’ experience in journalism, including working for The Associated Press and magazines such as Vegetarian Times and Sustainability: The Journal of Record. She has been at UofL since 2014.