Student-Written Grants Help Strengthen Connection between College and Community

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

The Master’s Reading Specialist Program at West Virginia Wesleyan College is more than an educational program; it is a hands-on experience for all students and faculty involved.  In fact, it is becoming a community endeavor.

“There is a strong relationship of collaboration between the county school system and the Master’s Reading program,” stated Dr. Tammy Samples, assistant professor of education.  “During my time at Wesleyan, we have worked in a number of capacities within the school system.”

A group of Title 1 reading students using iPads as a supplemental tool during a small guided reading lesson

Students in the Master’s program have assisted schools and literacy coaches with benchmark testing in their effort to assess local students, giving the students insight into the types of assessments given in reading, as well as practical application to those assessments.  The program also places students in the county for field hours, internships, and practicum placements.  As students need to be placed in three of the programmatic levels that include  Pre-K/Kindergarten, 1-4, and 5-8 levels, as well as high school and adult education, to ensure certification.

“There is also a six-week practicum experience that places graduate students in classrooms with certified reading specialists across the country,” commented Samples.  “The graduate students work with the teachers quickly to assume the daily teaching load.  These experiences all blend to provide on-the-job training for our graduate students and new perspectives and techniques for the cooperating teachers.”

As part of a required Leadership class in the Master’s Reading Specialist Program, students are also required to take part in a grant-writing assignment where students work with their practicum placement host teacher to write and submit a grant proposal for a variety of items.  These items could range from materials to technology, and these grants have been completed at the local, state, and national level.

Since Samples has been at Wesleyan, nine graduate students have successfully written grants for Harrison, Upshur, and Randolph Counties for items such as iPads, e-readers, classroom books, and technology equipment.  Nicki Bentley-Colthart, director of foundation and government relations, offers her expertise most semesters to Samples’ classes, as well.

“Sometimes the things we do on campus everyday become second nature to us, so being able to share that with students is important,” commented Bentley-Colthart.  “I shared with the students how to write grant proposals, how to find money, what types of things to look for, and offered feedback and help when needed.  It is money that goes to the public schools, not to Wesleyan, so it really is community outreach.”

One former graduate and current employee, Ian Shoulders ’11 and ’13, was responsible for writing a $4,000 technology grant entitled “Leveling the Playing Field: iPad Integration for Struggling Readers” that would buy 14 iPads for French Creek Elementary School in Upshur County.

“I believe that the universal availability of technology in a classroom allows students equal access to quality content, regardless of socioeconomic background or resources,” stated Shoulders.   “I grew up and was educated in Upshur County, so I am very passionate about education here.  I knew that if many of the under-achieving students I was working with had access to such a powerful tool, it would help lessen the educational gap that so often plays such a critical role in a student’s success.  When you put technology like that in a student’s hands, regardless of their resources elsewhere, they suddenly have a distinct advantage.”

In addition to Shoulders’ grant, other former graduate students have written grants in Randolph County for classroom library books, submitted proposals to for technology to benefit students at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, to the National Education Association for iPads to be used at Washington Irving Middle School in Harrison County, as well as three funded grants submitted to the Dollar General Literacy Fund grant program for iPads and e-readers, to be used at Tennerton Elementary School and Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School respectively.  These grants have provided more than $10,000 in funds to these school districts.

The Master’s Reading Specialist Program is open to both 5-year Wesleyan education students, as well as county teachers who wish to earn a Master’s degree or desire to become a certified Reading Specialist.

To learn more about the Master’s Reading Specialist Program, contact Tammy Samples, assistant professor of education, at, or Dr. Lynn Rupp, director of the Master’s program, at