James ‘Buck’ Harless has always supported and encouraged the initiatives of the June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development named in honor of June Montgomery Harless, one of Southern West Virginia’s most avid supporters of education and medical research. June and ‘Buck’ built Gilbert Hardwoods, located in the heart of West Virginia coal fields, into a successful international company, which resulted in countless individuals and organizations benefiting from their philanthropic efforts. Buck and June were instrumental in the development and construction of a unique $8.8 million center, the Larry Joe Harless Community Center, named for their late son and it is believed by many that Buck and June have changed the very face and culture of southern West Virginia.
The mission of the June Harless Center, which reflects the philosophy of both ‘Buck’ and the late June Harless, is to provide leadership in education initiatives for West Virginia educators and students. The Center provides educators and families of rural West Virginia with a support system that addresses educational problems, initiates and sustains school improvement, and provides innovative and creative programming for Pre-K through grade 12 students, teachers and administrators. The Center staff members have developed exemplary programs in professional development in every curricular area and in numerous delivery methods as well as instructional programs for students that provide for exciting, engaging and productive classrooms.
One of the first initiatives of the June Harless Center was the establishment of a model demonstration site composed of a kindergarten and first grade classroom in 2001 in an old, unused public school building in Wayne County, West Virginia. It remained in that location as it grew to include grade two. The focus was delivery of research based practices in reading and mathematics and demonstrating these practices in the classrooms through videoconferencing to rural schools across the State and Appalachian Region. In Fall, 2007, the model moved into one wing of Kellogg Elementary, a large nearby public school. The focus for the extended kindergarten through fifth grade 21st Century Model Site was to provide a laboratory for delivering all disciplines in an integrated format through research based strategies and to promote positive character education through an assimilation approach into “how we do business.” The model laboratory provided a venue for implementing, observing, researching and evaluating teaching strategies and student outcomes.
One of the most recent initiatives of the June Harless Center is the management of the Marshall University Early Education S.T.E.M. Center (MU EE STEM Center) in the Fall, 2010. The MU EE STEM Center is located on the Marshall University campus and in partnership with the Cabell County School System serves three and four year old children. The MU EE STEM Center also serves Marshall University as a laboratory in which individuals involved in the study and education of young children can observe and /or participate in a variety of ways. Students and faculty members can observe, participate, interact, conduct research and complete practicum experiences. The Center is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The accreditation seal indicates that a program has undergone a rigorous validation inspection to authenticate that it is offering high quality experiences for children. As a model site, the MU EE STEM Center serves as an outreach pre-k program to counties across the state. The Center prides itself on offering exemplary early education experiences based on a philosophy influenced by the Reggio Emilia method of child-initiated, teacher-supported, negotiated curriculum in which children’s curiosities about the environment are supported and encouraged.
A partnership with the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has enabled the Harless Center to provide a PreK-12 venue for the innovative educational products of the CREATE Lab. The CREATE Lab personnel at Carnegie Mellon University develop the products, and the CREATE Satellite Lab at the Harless Center provides the format for verifying their educational value and providing the staff development and dissemination of the products to teachers and students throughout West Virginia.
The Center provides statewide professional development in school reform, standards-based mathematics, best practices in literacy, place-based instruction and hands-on science and robotics. The Center is actively involved in facilitating the transitioning of schools to 21st century teaching and learning through the Harless Retrofit Process.
The Harless Center continues its outreach to counties and educators across West Virginia to assure excellence in the educational opportunities for all students. The Center is positioned to assist in the endeavors to create the Next Generation schools and Next Generation curriculum delivery methods across the State.