Students and faculty are concerned that the School of Education will eliminate the Health, Physical Education and Exercise Science from the list of offered programs at the school’s Department of Teaching and Learning.
Christine Walther-Thomas, the dean of the School of Education, assured current Health, Physical Education and Exercise Science (HPEX) students in an email sent earlier this month that they will be able finish the program they enrolled in.
HPEX professor Deborah Getty said that Walther-Thomas may not have been entirely clear by what she meant in her email to the students.
“(Walther-Thomas’) email said that if you are an HPEX student in the School of Education’s Teacher Preparation Program, you are covered,” Getty said, pointing out that to get into the program, a student needs at least 70 credits and has to take an entry test. “So what about the HPEX students who are on their way to getting into the Teacher Prep Program? … She did not guarantee coverage for these students.”
According to Getty, at least 30 to 40 out of the 75 HPEX students have not been accepted into the Teacher Preparation program and may not be covered by the School of Education for graduation. Three faculty members within the Department of Teaching and Learning will also affected be affected if the program is phased out.
Two of the faculty members, Getty and Richard Gayle, have chosen now to resign in order to avoid being part of the possible controversy.
The School of Education administration did not return requests for comment as of press time.
Getty said that phasing out the HPEX program from the Teacher Preparation Program would be harmful to the School of Education and VCU. She worries that students would be forced to transfer to similar programs without the resources that VCU has and would lose credits in the transition.
“Nowadays, with obesity in America and even the First Lady herself being a strong proponent for good health, it would be ridiculous to discourage students from learning how to teach HPEX,” Getty said.
The HPEX program is a unique program within the SOE’s Teaching in Learning Department, Getty said. The program itself is a five-year program that promises students a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and teaching certificate upon their graduation.
“In the program, once a student has earned the amount of credits necessary to receive a bachelor’s degree they are expected to continue to get their master’s and the their teaching certificate through the Teacher Prep Program,” Getty said. “Students usually don’t graduate until they have earned all these degrees and finished the entire program.”
According to Getty, students do have the choice of transferring out of the program or leaving with their bachelor’s. However, this action would not be recommended by the department.
“You can’t really do much with a bachelor’s degree in HPEX and you are not certified by VCU to teach because you don’t have a teacher’s certificate,” Getty said. “You could transfer out of the program but that would be like starting over with another major.”
Many HPEX students hoping to enter the Teacher Preparation Program are as concerned about the program’s future as Getty.
Raisha Chowdhury, an HPEX sophomore and the president of the HPEX Majors Club, said that she finds the entire controversy unsettling and ridiculous.
“I’m about to be a junior and just knowing I might have to wait around for another year in hopes that my program gets saved just seems ridiculous to me,” Chowdhury said in an email. She said that she shares Getty’s concerns about transferring schools to complete her major, noting that many who graduate from VCU’s program get jobs in the area.
“We shouldn’t even be on the chopping block. We’re a good program,” she said.
Chowdhury, who came to VCU specifically for the HPEX major, said that if the program is phased out she may plan on transferring to a different university.
“I might look into transferring to JMU, but I’d really rather not have to do that,” Chowdhury said. “I love my major, my classmates and my professors, and to see this all disappear before my eyes would be a tough one to swallow.”
Joshua Gentry, an HPEX junior and the vice president of the HPEX Majors Club, is worried that if the program is phased out, all of his effort thus far will amount to nothing.
“I am concerned that the hard work, time and money spent to get into the Teacher Prep Program is going to waste,” Gentry said in an email. Without the Teacher Prep Program, he said he would gradute with a bachelor’s of science degree, which wouldn’t be enough for him to be able to teach. Gentry said that he chose this path over other, more lucrative careers because of a deep-seated desire to teach others.
“I, personally, gave up a good career making good money, and I changed my entire life to pursue this passion,” he said.
Gentry said the solutions proposed by the School of Education administration are not feasible for many students and he wants to be able to finish out his degree and fulfill his ambitions of becoming a teacher.
“I can’t just transfer to JMU or Longwood,” he said. “Like many others in this program, we only hope that we are able to continue to pursue our dreams and our passions.”