History of the June Harless Center
The Marshall University June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development was established in 2000 with a mission to provide leadership in educational initiatives for West Virginia educators and students. This mission reflects the philosophy of “Buck” and the late June Harless, for which the center is named. The June Harless Center was created to fulfill a dream of Buck Harless to help every West Virginia child become whatever their dreams could create. The Center provides educators and families of rural West Virginia with a support system that addresses educational problems, sustains school improvement, and provides positive growth in all educational factors. The Harless Center provides professional development in STEM, early literacy, and early childhood education.
County and school partnerships have purposely been established to focus on benefits for teachers, administrators, and students, as well as assisting school districts in an effort to obtain supplementary funding for educational programming. The goal of the work is ultimately higher student achievement as a direct result of highly effective teachers and highly motivated and engaged students in relevant and rigorous assignments.
The partnership among Cabell County, the Harless Center, and the EL Education Network paved the way for the opening of the Explorer Academy in the fall, 2015. Explorer Academy is a consolidated elementary school in Huntington, WV. It is the first EL Education school in West Virginia, established to become an incubator and model school for the state. EL Education supports a hands-on approach to learning through natural and authentic experiences.
The Harless Center has partnered with Logan County’s preschool and kindergarten teachers to provide professional development and support. This led to the creation of a Pre-K through first-grade early childhood research laboratory initiated in 2017 and formally opened at Chapmanville Primary in 2018. The goal of this educational research center in Logan County is to establish a network of early education sites that will share their results of innovation and positive academic growth. Funding for the research center has been provided by grants from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
The Harless Center manages the Early Education STEAM Center on the campus of Marshall University, serving as a model Pre-K program for the state of West Virginia. The Harless Center expanded by adding another classroom at Explorer Academy. In 2018, both locations were affirmed as nationally accredited early childhood centers from NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children), making Explorer Academy the first nationally accredited Pre-k program in a WV public school building. The STEAM Center continues to grow and in 2017, opened another Pre-K classroom in Logan County. All three programs support classrooms demonstrating exemplary educational experiences influenced by the Reggio Emilia method of child-initiated, teacher-supported curriculum.
The CREATE Satellite was established in 2011 through a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE LAB and is located at Marshall University. The CREATE Satellite provides teacher training as well as a lending library of technology tools, which include robotics, circuitry kits, SPECK air quality monitors, and Gigapan technology.
The Shewey Science Academy was established in 2007, through the philanthropic support of the Fred and Christine Shewey family. The purpose of the program is to stimulate in Mingo County middle school students a vision in STEM careers. In 2018, the Logan County Board of Education adopted a similar science academy format for their middle school students.
The mission of the June Harless Center to provide leadership in educational initiatives for West Virginia educators and students has led the Harless staff to take advantage of every opportunity to submit proposals for programmatic funding to benefit teachers and students. From 2015 – 2018, the Harless staff received 6 Improving Teacher Quality grants resulting in summer institutes, follow-up sessions, and instructional supplies in STEM areas for teachers in Cabell, Lincoln, Mason, and Wayne counties. Additionally, the Harless Center received mini-grants from various sources which were used to introduce littleBits and sphero robotics to children in Cabell and Mason counties.
Through a significant grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Harless center supported an outdoor learning project. This project included professional development for area teachers focused on enhancing their lesson plans with effective strategies, techniques, and tools to be used in an outdoor classroom.
In 2017 the June Harless Center collaborated with the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) to provide a STEM experience through a summer institute, follow-up sessions and continued support to 12 participating middle and high schools. An outgrowth of this project is a partnership with Fayette County to develop a Pre-K -12 STEM system in Fayette County.
A 2015 partnership with the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) Office of Early Learning resulted in a grant enabling the Harless Center to expand its staff to include five Early Literacy Specialists. The Specialists serve and support every county in West Virginia as they progress in the West Virginia Leaders of Literacy: Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
As an outgrowth of the work of the Harless Center with early literacy, the Center is partnering with the WVDE and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to foster a love of books and reading among WV children by increasing the number of children who receive high-quality books from birth until they begin school.
To address the need for highly qualified secondary STEM educators, the June Harless Center is partnering with Marshall University College of Education and Professional Development and the West Virginia Department of Education to develop a teacher preparation program to better
prepare future and current teachers in STEM content fields. Using a planning grant from the Benedum Foundation, development of a Teacher Education Fellows Program is underway.
These are just a few of the initiatives that represent the efforts of the June Harless Center staff who are dedicated to working with WV educators to create “purpose-driven professional development and exemplary support and leadership in educational programming.”