Ripple Effect—Center for the Liberal Arts Supports Teachers Across Virginia

Picture 5,000 high school students.

That’s about how many Susan Barnes has taught in her 25-year career. Now, imagine that you’re Barnes—and you’re looking for a new way to engage the next 30 students who are about to walk into your humanities class.

Thanks to the UVA Center for the Liberal Arts (CLA), Barnes has already found her next lesson. She periodically drives to Charlottesville to attend teacher workshops provided by UVA faculty members who specialize in her field.

Building Connections

These workshops energize teachers like Barnes and equip them to bring the curriculum to life for students. With funding from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (AVDF), CLA provides programs focused on building teachers’ content knowledge. Highlights include the following:

  • Facilitating teacher engagement with expert faculty
  • Use of workshops, seminars and year-long research
  • Free teacher access to programs and related materials

Responding to Needs

“Listening is a hallmark of our work with teachers,” said Gustavo Pellón, a CLA project director. “We listen and respond to their requests, sometimes leading and suggesting, but always listening.”

The current grant provides workshops and support to more than 600 teachers.

Connecting teachers with faculty in this way has been the focus of CLA director Victor Luftig’s work for years. “Being responsive to teachers’ needs while still creating space for faculty to innovate requires deep faith in the capacity of teachers to know what they need — and faith in faculty to know what will help,” he said.

Extending Impact

The ripple effect of this University outreach is broad. The current three-year grant from the AVDF will allow CLA to provide workshops and courses to more than 600 teachers. Add to this that teachers like Barnes provide professional development for their fellow teachers back at school, and you’ll begin to see the power of this program.

Beginning this year, CLA will share its work beyond Virginia by inviting seven partner institutions to learn this model and implement it with their faculty and teachers. The multiplying effect continues.

UVA CLA Faculty

  • Share cutting-edge knowledge with K-12 schools since 1984
  • Serve approximately 350 teachers per year
  • Disseminate successful approaches to partner institutions nationwide

Influencing Students

These CLA workshops help Barnes “make history and literature richer and more human for my students.” During a class discussion following a CLA workshop on world religions, one student shared what he had previously hidden: he and his family are Muslim, and he’d been praying secretly in the restroom three times each day because there was nowhere for him to pray at school. The results were immediate and tangible: his classmates quickly offered support and suggestions, and now several other Muslim students join him in prayer regularly.

According to Barnes, “If I hadn’t taken these UVA classes, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to talk about these topics with students. Now, when my students see a Saturday CLA workshop on my calendar, they come in on Monday excited, asking, ‘What did you learn?’”