Fairfield University President, Jeffrey P. von Arx, Welcomes Bridgeport Teachers For a Day On Writing

Jeffrey P. von Arx, President of Fairfield University, welcomed over 75 teachers to campus yesterday during a back-to-school kick-off for Bassick High School. With funds from a National Writing Project SEED (Supporting Effective Educator Development) grant, the day focused on community, the importance of university/district relations, and the importance of teaching writing across the content areas. The event was a follow-up to the yearlong professional development offered to teachers at the school and an investment in the 2013-2014 school year. In 2012, President von Arx and the Superintendent of Bridgeport Schools announced the need for greater collaboration between Connecticut Universities and local school districts to better support youth. Their announcement arrived weeks after CWP-Fairfield learned it was a recipient of a 2012 NWP SEED grant to work with Bassick High School. On August 26th, yesterday, the teachers and staff traveled to Fairfield University for a day of workshops and motivation.  The following is a transcript of the words Father von Arx delivered.

Good Morning Everyone

On behalf of everyone at Fairfield University, it is a pleasure for me to be able to welcome you to this professional development day, in support of your efforts to begin enhancing the interdisciplinary literacy practices at Bassick High School in support of the Common Core State Standards.

I am appreciative of Dr. Wayne Alexander, superintendent Paul Vallas, and outgoing Dean of our Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions Dr. Susan Franzosa for establishing a partnership between Fairfield University and your institutions. The teachers teaching teachers model of the National Writing Project, too, deserves recognition and, Fairfield University is proud to host one of the three Connecticut Writing Project sites in the state. Through them, we are committed to building teacher leadership, better writing instruction, and professional development that matters to teachers. The model has historically been noted as the best professional development offered in the United States.

As educators, we all appreciate how critical it is that our young people acquire the capacity to be fluently literate — to be able to express themselves, develop their own ideas, understand the perspectives of others, think critically, and engage with the world around them in a creative and civilly responsible manner.

Indeed, the whole foundation of our civil society — our democracy and the values and truths that we hold to be self-evident — depends on a society of persons who can read and think, and through that capacity, be able to see themselves as valued and active participants in their community.

In this respect, the work that you do as educators in Connecticut, especially in the city of Bridgeport, is extraordinarily important, and the stakes — where the future of our nation is concerned — could not possibly be higher.

At Fairfield University we are committed to ongoing collaboration with city of Bridgeport and the city schools to promote literacy, and to share the expertise we have with our colleagues in the Bridgeport school system as we collaborate to help our young people achieve their potential. Specifically it is our hope that our young people will be prepared at the time of their graduation from high school to enter higher education with all of the skills sets that they need to succeed.

Our vision is to see as many of your graduates entering higher education as possible and we are committed to assisting your efforts. Our Summer Scholars Program, for example, offers a taste of college life by providing a summer residential and academic experience for talented high school students.

Although controversial to many, we believe that the skills required by the Common Core State Standards are a foundation for what young people will need for successful experiences in college and, later, the work force.

Adopting the Common Core State Standards, however, will be a challenge for students, who will be expected to write more often, and to a higher and more consistent standard, and it will be a challenge to you as educators as you make important changes to your teaching methods and practices, especially as new assessments arrive.

We appreciate too, that urban school districts face unique and difficult challenges that make the adoption of the Common Core State Standards even more of an obstacle than they might be in other districts. We also appreciate that very often, teachers are left to feel that they are on their own, without the support that they need to undertake the challenges they are faced with.

That is why we must work together — collaboratively as educators — to build a stronger community, to share our expertise, and to identify what is effective in addressing our students needs, while also identifying the impediments to their growth, and acting in concert to remove or reduce those impediments.

I hope that events like this one will be a step along the way, and that we will continue to find ways to work together to ensure that our young people will succeed.

Certainly, at Fairfield University this is a commitment that we will continue to embrace, and I am confident that as we move forward, we will find other avenues for further collaboration. ~JVA

The Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University was extremely honored to have President von Arx address the audience of Bridgeport teachers. The kick-off event was a tremendous success.