UM dean of education discusses benefits of community partnerships

Published 11:34 am Monday, October 25, 2021


MONTEVALLO – Community involvement was the central theme of Dr. Courtney Bentley’s remarks at the Montevallo Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday, Oct. 20 at Parnell Memorial Library.

Bentley, dean of the University of Montevallo’s College of Education and Human Development, spoke about community outreach and engagement relative to students completing their academic programs.

“We are, above all, committed to mutually beneficial partnerships,” Bentley said. “For me, as a leader, it’s really important that those partnerships always be mutually beneficial. They cannot be one-sided.”

In her nearly 17 years in higher education, Bentley said one of the challenges she has seen with colleges of education is community saturation regarding students’ clinical field experiences.

“We ask so much from our community partners,” she said. “We ask for you to take our interns across programs and to mentor them and grow them into professionals that hopefully go back and contribute positively to those communities.”

The community partnerships are “rooted in reciprocal relationships among stakeholders,” Bentley said.

“The themes of mutuality and reciprocity emphasize that all stakeholders in a specific partnership benefit from the partnership in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to them as well as to the larger shared goals,” she said.

Bentley said 100 percent of CEHD academic programs include field experiences in the world of practice.

The three-pronged approach involves:

• Learning – Students work with faculty to learn critical knowledge, skills and dispositions for their profession.

• Understanding – Faculty work with community partners to understand needs and prepare students to learn while serving.

• Serving – Students serve in local educational and other social serving agencies to continue their learning.

Structures that ensure the college maintains mutually beneficial partnerships include Montevallo Connection, Falcon Flight and Gear-Up Jefferson County.

Montevallo Connection is a group whose purpose is to re-energize and further strengthen the partnership between the UM faculty at large and the faculty in the Montevallo schools.

“We meet with leadership from the elementary, middle and high school, and we listen to what their needs are,” Bentley said. “We tell them what the university is offering, and then we really try to coordinate services so that we can build each other up and have a greater impact in the community.”

One of the initiatives under Montevallo Connection is Falcon Flight, a collaborative program with Shelby County schools that opens up the UM campus to students with intellectual disabilities.

“This is with Shelby County at large,” Bentley said. “They come in, they get to have the experience of being a university student, they are able to audit classes with our faculty, and then they are able to go out and work in the community. We are really proud of this partnership.”

Bentley also talked about grants that, with sponsorships, support the university’s work.

“One of our larger grants is Gear-Up Jefferson County,” she said. “Although it’s in Jefferson County, it’s important to share this work because what we’re doing with Jefferson County will create opportunities on our campus for Shelby County students as well.”

Gear-Up Jefferson County is a $25 million grant with the following goals: to increase the successful academic performance, educational expectations and preparation for and participation in post-secondary education; to increase student and family knowledge of post-secondary education options, preparation and financing; and to increase the rate of high school graduation and participation in post-secondary education for Gear-Up students.

“Right now, we have over 4,500 students, and the idea is that we provide direct services to under-resourced students and schools to improve post-secondary outcomes,” Bentley said. “To attain these goals, we are going to the school sites, but we also offer different experiences on campus.”

Another grant called Thrive Together is designed to support a durable model for providing wraparound services that are necessary to support children, youth and families, Bentley said.

Through the UM Regional In-Service Center in Pelham, the university provides professional development opportunities for local teachers.

Bentley also shared an update on the Grainger Community Counseling and Wellness Clinic, which is set to open in the renovated Sims House in early 2022.

“We’re making really good progress,” Bentley said of the project, made possible by a collaboration and contribution between the Montevallo Development Cooperative District and the Grainger family with philanthropic giving. “The renovation of Sims is truly inspired.”

The clinic’s services will include individual counseling, group counseling, certified child play therapy, telemental health and childcare.

“We will have graduate counseling students under the supervision of a faculty member to provide those services,” Bentley said. “This is also going to be on the periphery of campus. This really is for the community; this is not for students. We have a counseling center for students on campus. This is only for the citizens of Montevallo and the surrounding community, and it will be free.”