A Passion for Education

Virginia_Knight Crop

By Cynthia Hartman and Margaret Barry

PCHAS Director of Education Virginia Knight is passionate about education. Her mother was a civil engineer in Mesquite, Texas at a time when female engineers were scarce; Virginia had a great role model growing up. She earned a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology and a master’s degree in education. She worked as a speech therapist, then as a public school teacher, focusing much of her 25-year teaching career on helping children who struggled with reading.

When Virginia retired from classroom teaching ten years ago, she learned that PCHAS was planning to expand its education program. “PCHAS had a wonderful program to support our students who wanted to go on to college or vocational school, but it had nothing formal to support the younger children. I joined PCHAS to help develop a program to support them,” she said.

Virginia believes that education is the key to a successful future for all young people, and that it’s especially important to support those who may be struggling with difficult or traumatic family circumstances, like the children in PCHAS’ care. The PCHAS Education Program helps by providing the children in its Group Homes with tutoring services and emotional support.

Each Group Home campus provides tutoring sessions three times a week. The program also focuses on building strong relationships with local schools. A PCHAS education coordinator attends parent-teacher conferences and advocates for the students’ special needs.

“Every day presents another challenge, and we couldn’t do it without the dedication of the Home Parents and our hardworking staff, Shirley Anthony and Gayle Jordan. We make a great team,” Virgina said.

When asked about what fuels Virginia’s passion for the PCHAS education program, Gayle said, “Virginia knows that if kids have a solid education it can change the course of their lives. Because of the years she spent in the classroom, she has first-hand knowledge of children’s unique learning styles. What works for one child might not work for another. This approach guides her—and us—to consider how best to help each child. She believes that there are no cookie-cutter approaches to education and that we need to look at the whole child, to help them succeed academically.”

Virginia is justly proud of the service learning programs she helped create. Every summer, the children in the Group Homes choose a service learning project. In the past, projects have included volunteering at a facility that serves people with Down Syndrome and sharing fire safety tips from the local fire department. Other recent projects include volunteering at an animal shelter where the students bathed, groomed and fed the animals.

Group Home residents can also choose to compete in a summer reading program in which they set reading goals. At the end of the summer, PCHAS hosts a campus-wide celebratory event whereby Group Home residents present their service learning projects and receive awards for meeting or exceeding their reading goals. Virginia says the kids love the event, but it’s apparent from the way she speaks of the program that she enjoys it as much as the children do.

“One summer, for their service learning project, the children in one of the Group Homes refurbished some old bicycles. The Home Parents supervised and helped with the work. It was such a pleasure to see the kids’ enthusiasm as they shared their project at our service learning celebration.”

When asked what she enjoys most about the PCHAS education program, Virginia thinks for a moment and answers, “continually thinking about how to do things better. We are constantly reevaluating and looking at our outcomes. We can see an overall improvement in school performance, and we are always asking ourselves, how can we help the students succeed? That’s what guides us.”