Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Education have formed a partnership that will improve the educational experience of youth enrolled in family and consumer sciences programs in Virginia's public schools while also advancing the mission of both state agencies.

Teachers working with middle and high school students in the areas of nutrition, financial management, food safety, and other family and consumer sciences topics need a reliable source of information. Extension agents manage programs in these areas every day, and also have direct access to current research. A main focus of the partnership is to bring those agents and teachers together.

Karen Gehrt, associate director for Family and Consumer Sciences with Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Helen Fuqua, family and consumer sciences program specialist with the Virginia Department of Education, met last year while serving on a panel together. Both new to their positions, they began to realize that their goals complemented one another and that their agencies had the potential to collaborate.

Gehrt and Fuqua have begun a partnership plan that creates several opportunities for Extension faculty members and classroom teachers to interact. “We see this partnership as a good opportunity to meet our individual agency goals, and also to work together to move the field of family and consumer sciences forward in Virginia,” says Gehrt.

“Classroom teachers find it difficult to keep up with the demands of teaching and also stay current with research-based information in their fields,” says Fuqua. “By partnering with Extension, we can help teachers have easy access to the latest information coming from the university level.”

Extension agents will also serve on panels of experts convened by the Department of Education to review and write school curriculum in the family and consumer sciences area. By coming together in this way, Extension agents can help determine what needs to be taught at the high-school level in order to prepare students for post-secondary family and consumer sciences education. In doing so, agents will also be able to form relationships with new audiences for their programs – both teachers and students. “Teachers represent an audience we would like to reach, and we will be working with them in a train-the-trainer type environment,” Gehrt adds.

Another goal of the program is to help teachers become more aware of the resources available to them through Extension. In some areas of Virginia, this goal will be met by simply strengthening an already existing relationship between agents and teachers; while in others areas it will require developing completely new relationships. Fuqua and Gehrt feel that the outcome of building these relationships will be stronger programs for both agencies.

Initial interactions between the two agencies began in late 2007 and will continue to expand in 2008.

“I am pleased that this partnership has taken shape and I look forward to seeing the benefits as our relationships develop,” says Mark McCann, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Collaborations such as this help Extension reach new and more diverse audiences at both the state and local levels, and also help our agents stay connected with the communities they serve.”


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