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The 2021 MERC Conference program features over 100 speakers from educational research, policy, and practice. Access the session information below to plan your day.






Thread: Promising Student Support Systems

Pandemic and Beyond: An Instructor’s Innovative Approach to Online Teaching

Dorothy Nelson (VSU)

The global pandemic radically changed education overnight. Pivoting to a virtual learning environment had its challenges for instructors, but they quickly adapted with innovative teaching practices. This presentation discusses an engaging semester-long project that was assigned in lieu of planning a live event in a fashion promotion course.


1) Though the pandemic forced educators to switch to online teaching overnight, they have quickly adapted to and achieved online success and promising outcomes by using innovative teaching practices.

2) Successful student engagement requires considering student desires and interests and incorporating them into the learning material.

3) Create projects and assignments that can be easily adapted from face-to-face to online/hybrid learning environments.

Lessons Learned from Racial Injustice and the Covid-19 Pandemic While Teaching Human Development to Preservice Educators: Evidence-based Practices

Korinthia D. Nicolai (VCU), Alison C. Koenka, (VCU), Richard Garries, (VCU)

This session will discuss strategies for instructors to foster inclusion in their courses. We will organize our recommendations into three categories: curriculum content, exams and assignments, and leading engaging discussions. These strategies are based upon our experiences in a Human Development and Learning course during 2020.


1) Curriculum Content: Tangible strategies to acknowledge the lack of inclusion that is often found in textbooks, theories, and research and how to honor diversity.

2) Exams and Assignments: Tangible strategies for rethinking assessment to better support all of our students.

3) Leading Engaging Discussions: Tangible strategies for engaging students and creating an engaging learning environment.



Thread: Promising Equity Strategies

Teaching Social Justice in an English/Language Arts Classroom

Alma Z Kenup (Henrico), Vicky Brucker (Henrico)

Two middle school teachers share lessons on designing and executing a curriculum featuring social justice. Hear stories about roadblocks, near-misses and successes in creating engaging student-centered lessons that weave in students interests around representation, antiracism, environmental justice and history-making events


1) Collaboration is key when designing instruction on issues that may be deemed controversial. Someone somewhere has done this work before.

2) Before considering teaching about injustices, do the work yourself first. Understand your background, bias and know where you have more to learn.

3) Get student input and feedback about instruction. 

Teaching for Social Justice: Supporting Pre-service Science and Mathematics Teachers to Grow From Awareness to Advocacy

Monica Grillo (VCU), Meredith Kier (W&M)

Prior to this roundtable discussion, we encourage participants to bring successful activities that they have used with preservice mathematics and science teachers to be advocates for equity in high-poverty schools. We will begin the discussion by introducing our context, including the nature of our preparation experiences and characteristics of preservice teachers at our university. We seek to present key assignments in this course and the predominant themes that emerged activities through. We will ask participants to consider a successful activity, course, or programmatic experience that has supported equitable teaching in STEM. We will ask them to share descriptions of these activities as well as what teacher educators need to be aware of when facilitating. Facilitators and participants will share syllabi, readings, and assignments in a shared drive accessible for all.


1) This roundtable has the potential to bring teacher educators together to share activities and research for developing the readiness of preservice mathematics and science teachers to serve diverse populations.

2) We also welcome science and mathematics teachers in the field to offer feedback on program structures, course designs, and class assignments.

3) This opportunity to network and share ideas can lead to research opportunities, such as an NSF Noyce proposal where educators can compare the effectiveness of teacher preparation across states.



Thread: Promising Teacher Development

Support Teacher Led Learning Through PLC and Teacher Teams

Andrew Baker (Henrico), Brian Smith (Henrico), Ashley O'Carrol (Henrico), Jason K. Liebler (Henrico)

This session will share resources, research, and strategies used in Henrico County Schools to support teacher to teacher learning in over seventy schools by focusing on teacher-leader training to build skillsets in educators to effectively lead PLCs and teacher teams to support student learning and motivation.


1) Resources and frameworks supporting teacher-led learning in schools

2) Research behind the efficacy and importance of school-based PLCs and teacher teams.

3) Methods for bridging the research-to-practice gap in public schools

Interdisciplinary Collaborative Leadership Leads to Teacher and Student Excellence

Sarah Billups (Hanover), Jan Collins (Hanover), Amy Jones (Hanover)

In order to increase teacher and student excellence we first need to look at our ability as leaders to collaborate. We have developed a strong collaborative relationship between Math, English and Language Arts, and Special Education in Hanover County. We are working as an interdisciplinary team to better impact teachers and students and increase our daily impact.


1) The importance of leadership working collaboratively at the division level.

2) The importance of general education and special education instructional leaders collaborating.

3) The impact of multidisciplinary instructional walkthroughs.



Thread: Promising Access

(MERC Research) Developing Equitable Gifted Programs in Title I Settings Using Evidence-Based Practices

David Naff (VCU), Rich Ashburn (Henrico), Amy Jefferson (VCU)

Research has persistently demonstrated racial and socioeconomic disparities in gifted education. But how does this evidence inform more equitable practice in classrooms? In this presentation, MERC researchers will share research and strategies to promote equity gifted and talented programs. Then a Gifted Resource Teacher working in Title I schools will share how this research helped launch a new initiative in his division.


1) Participants will learn about the landscape of racial and socioeconomic disparities in gifted education programs, nationally and in Virginia.

2) Participants will gain knowledge about strategies for promoting greater equity in gifted education, including a conceptual shift towards talent development.

3) Participants will hear local examples of how to implement educational research into practice to promote greater equity in advanced coursework.

(MERC Research) Analyzing Advanced Placement (AP): Making the Nation’s Most Prominent College Preparatory Program More Equitable

David Naff (VCU), Chris Gannon (Fairfax), Olivia Exum (Goochland)

This presentation will share research and trends in the Advanced Placement (AP) program, including historical and enduring inequities in participation and performance and strategies for addressing them. It will also feature testimonials from AP teachers and students in central Virginia. 


1) Participants will learn about historical trends in AP course taking and performance

2) Participants will learn about disparities in AP course taking and school and policy level contributors to inequities

3) Participants will learn practical strategies for promoting greater equity in AP programs



Thread: Promising Partnerships

Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice: Developing University-School Partnerships with a Dual Identity

Destini Braxton (RPS), Alison Koenka (VCU), LaTonya Waller (RPS), Korinthia Nicolai (VCU)

As educational systems continue to evolve, it is essential for researchers to continue bridging the gap between theory and practice. This presentation will discuss developing university-school partnerships, looking closely at individuals with dual research and educator identities, as one of many possible solutions.


1) Cast a spotlight on the benefits and experiences of developing school partnerships from an educator and researcher perspective

2) Provide tips on how to develop school partnerships as a part-time doctoral student.

3) Provide recommendations for providing mentorship and professional support to students who identify as both an educator and researcher.

(MERC Research) Picture of Practice Revealed: Unpacking a Researcher-Practitioner Partnership

Margaret K. Wallace (VCU), Kasey Dye (VCU), Sande Dawes (VCU), Krystal Thompkins (Petersburg), Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin (Petersburg)

Join us as we unpack the Petersburg Partnership and consider lessons-learned through a collaboration that prioritizes mutualism and shared values with the purpose of growing instructional best practices and student thinking. The team will share pictures of practice and provide attendees with resources for initiating and replicating their own partnership.


1) Collaborative partnerships that honor mutualism and shared values, cultivate a positive learning climate that supports the growth of instructional best practices and student thinking and learning.

2)The following are key factors in establishing a successful researcher-practitioner partnership: (a) establishing trusting relationships (b) cultivating a shared language between partners and an understanding that this work is for the mutual benefit of students, in addition to (c) learning from and with each other throughout the partnership.

3)The Petersburg Partnership will provide a living dashboard for conference participants to engage with during and following the presentation. This dashboard includes pictures of practice, testimonials from team members and resources for conducting this work. This is a learning space that invites connection and learning for all education stakeholders.



Thread: Promising Retention Strategies

Identity and Contextual Factors Influencing Retention of Science and Mathematics Teachers in High-Need Schools

Monica Grillo (VCU), Meredith Kier (W&M)

Using a digital storyboard and spoken narrative, participants will explore and process the narratives of three different typologies of science and mathematics teachers who remain committed to teaching in HNSs beyond their scholarship obligation years. In our research, we designed the interview of nine Noyce Scholarship Program alumni chronologically: early experiences that led them to teach, experiences in their career that shaped their commitment, and their future plans in HNSs. Teacher educators in attendance will follow the lived experiences of our research participants. We will facilitate participant discussion at each juncture, encouraging them to reflect on the lived experiences of science and mathematics teachers who remain committed to teaching in HNSs and how these narratives can inform their ideas of what is needed in the field, organizationally and from a leadership perspective.


1) Our session participants will return to their spheres of influence well-positioned to include opportunities for pre-service and in-service teachers to develop their professional identities as researchers and social justice advocates.

2) This may include engaging teachers and candidates in professional development, engaging in iterative action research, practicing culturally responsive approaches, and navigating scenarios of political and student-related challenges.

3) Our research findings which we hope to present have implications for higher education, school districts, and PK-20 educators.

Reflections from RTR in Petersburg: R-Relationships, T- Trust, and R-Results

Kim McKnight (VCU), Jennifer Kelley (Petersburg)

With 100% retention of all RTR-Petersburg graduates, the principal of Cool Spring Elementary and the RTR Executive Director reflect on what has led to this success.


1) Focus on the relationships at every level- district, university, school, and classroom to have successful partnerships

2) Building trust and having open lines of communication are critically important to new partnerships

3) Strong results only happen with consistent focus on reflective practice, relationships, and trust in the process and the people



Thread: Promising Access

(MERC Research) Exploring Trends, Patterns, and Disparities in Advanced Course Taking in the MERC Region

Erica Ross (VCU), Chin- Chi Chen (VCU), David Naff (VCU), Brandon- Lee Lucas, (VCU)

This project uses the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) to explore who receives gifted and talented services in elementary school and takes advanced courses in middle and high school in the MERC region. This includes an analysis of how advanced course taking varies by race, socioeconomic status, gender, disability status, and English Learner status as well as division and school characteristics.


1) Understanding the landscape of advanced course taking and performance patterns in metropolitan Richmond schools

2) Exploring disparities in advanced course taking and performance based on student demographics

3) Understanding how school and division demographics relates to advanced course taking and performance patterns

The Diploma Plus Initiative.... It's Not a Linear Thing. Let Me Explain.

Terrie W. Allsbrooks (Petersburg), Charles Spain Jr. (Petersburg)

The Diploma Plus Initiative (DPI) is grounded in increasing access to high-demand, high-wage careers, addressing barriers to postsecondary success, building pipelines to local workforce development, and leading to financial security for our students.


1) Develop an understanding of the framework used to guide Diploma Plus

2) Understand the data/researched used to guide Diploma Plus

3) Understand the accountability measures and next steps needed to sustain DPI.

The Role of Faculty in Recruiting Students at a Historically Black College

Dorothy Wu Nelson (VSU), Jada Brooks (VSU)

Family and Consumer Science (FACS), formerly known as Home Economics, has been invaluable to students in public schools nationwide for many decades. In recent years, there has been a great need for educators and professionals in the field. This presentation will focus on recruiting students into a university Family and Consumer Science Program at an HBCU.


1) Participants will gain an understanding of a Family and Consumer Science program at a Historically Black College.

2) Participants will examine recruitment strategies.

3) Key recruitment goals will be reviewed to include student growth, the importance of maintaining enrollment of new and established students, and increasing graduation rates.



Thread: Promising Teacher Development

Elevating Teaching Leaders through Action Research

Andrew Baker (Henrico), Angela Stewart (Henrico), Melinda Preston (Henrico), Tiffany Stevens (Henrico), Amber Fugate (Henrico)

In this session, participants will learn about how Henrico Schools supports teacher-leaders in year-long action research cohorts allowing them to drive their own professional learning through guided inquiry and instructional experimentation. Not only will the processes and resources be shared and used in the facilitation of these cohorts, participants will join a mini research poster session hosted by the teacher leaders themselves.


1) A model for facilitating learning through action-research in a public school division

2) The experiences of real teachers who have completed action research projects

3) An opportunity to connect with regional partners interested in supporting or helping with action research in Central Virginia

(MERC Research) Developing Culturally Responsive Teachers: Reflections on a Two Year Action Research Program

Jesse Senechal (VCU), Fantasy Lozada (VCU), Hillary Parkhouse (VCU), Robyn Lyn (VCU), Rachel Davis (VCU), Erin Drulis (VCU), Elizabeth Severson-Irby (VCU)

ARTCRT (Action Research Teams for Culturally Responsive Teaching) was a two-year professional development program that worked with middle and high school teachers from the MERC region. In this session, leaders and participants in the program will share reflections about the program and about the promise and potential of culturally responsive education models.


1) Attendees will gain a better understanding of the framework of culturally responsive teaching.

2) Attendees will learn about current resources for culturally responsive teaching.

3) Attendees will have opportunities for discussion and networking with other educational stakeholders interested in culturally responsive teaching.



Thread: Promising Student Wellbeing

When We Do It for the Culture-The intentional Centering of Blackness in School-Based Mental Health Systems

Shenita E. Williams (Henrico, VCU)

The needs of Black students experiencing mental health challenges are compounded by issues of race and culture. Afrocentricity advances social justice and human rights by honoring cultural uniqueness, personal strengths, and community development. Educators can use Afrocentricity in practice, policy, and research to support the needs of Black students.


1) Participants will be able to define Afrocentricity.

2) Participants will be able to identify and explain tenets of an African-Centered approach when working with Black students.

3) Participants will be able to describe the application of each tenet in action.

Trauma-informed Education to Promote Productive Learning and Healthy Development

Sunny Shin (VCU), Sara Abdel-hamid (VCU), Brooke Nuckols (VCU)

We live in a society where the health and life prospects of our students are plagued by widespread exposure to adverse childhood experiences, and its disruptive impacts on learning. This session provides an overview of adverse childhood experiences in childhood, their Impact on education, and strategies to build trauma-informed schools.


1) What is adverse childhood experiences or child trauma?

2) How trauma may influence learning and mental health of students?

3) How to build a trauma-informed school

Something Had to Give During Shutdown, and it Was Schoolwork

Jentry Barrett (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Emily Wilson (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Martinique Sealy (VCU), Jungwon Eum (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Yuenjung Joo (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Gwen Nugent (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

During the Spring 2020 COVID-19 school shutdowns, many parents in rural Nebraska multitasked parenting, teaching, and working from home. The stress of these competing roles necessitated a realignment of priorities. Subsequently, parents reduced children's workload and were able to guide children's negative responses using social-emotional and mental health strategies.


1) Social-emotional knowledge assisted parents as they supported their children’s emotional and behavioral regulation during the COVID-19 shutdown.

2) Juggling multiple roles as parent, teacher, and worker put strain on family relationships. Parents responded to this by prioritizing family inter-connectedness and emotional well-being during the pandemic and school shutdown.

3) There was a mismatch between what educators were asking parents to do, and what parents were able to accomplish given the constraints of multiple children at home and parents’ employment.



Thread: Promising Partnerships

(MERC Research) Boundary Crossing: Examples of University / School Division Partnership on Local Evaluation Efforts

Jesse Senechal (VCU), Tiffany Hinton (Henrico)

Over the past two years, Henrico County Public Schools and the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium have partnered on local evaluation efforts within the division. This session will include discussion of a collaborative evaluation project exploring a behavior program for students with disabilities. Presenters will share the approach taken, benefits, and lessons learned.


1) Attendees will learn about models of research practice partnership.

2) Attendees will learn about a specific example of a research practice partnership project.

3) Attendees will have opportunities for networking with educational stakeholders who have shared interest in the potential impact of research practice partnerships.

(MERC Research) Data-Driven Decision Making: Using Stakeholder Survey Dashboards to Inform School and Division Level Policy and Practice in Henrico

David Naff (VCU), Tiffany Hinton (Henrico), Joy Reed (Henrico), Katie Taylor (Henrico), Nicole Henderson (Henrico)

This presentation will profile how principals and division leaders Henrico County Public Schools have utilized dashboards developed by the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium to visualize response data from their annual stakeholder survey. The survey data captures the perspectives of students, parents, and staff along key metrics relative to the division’s strategic plan, and allows for annual assessment of progress at the school and division level. Participants will learn about the dashboard development process and this research-practice partnership guides data-driven decision making for the benefit of students.


1) Participants will learn strategies for soliciting input from key stakeholders in their schools and divisions.

2) Participants will learn how to routinely leverage a strategic plan as a guiding document for promoting growth across predetermined metrics.

3) Participants will learn processes for creating and sharing data dashboards to support decision-making at the school and division level.



Thread: Promising Teacher Development

The Art of the First Year

Robert Stevens (CodeRVA)

This session sets out to provide new and novice teachers (and the administrators who support them) with tools that will help them navigate the critical first few years in the classroom. Teachers will leave this session better prepared to educate students in the most demanding environments.


1) Attendees will learn how to better support their students by learning strategies to develop authentic relationships with students, parents, and colleagues.

2) Attendees will learn ways to create a culturally responsive classroom environment.

Attending to Teacher Voice and Choice: A Data-Driven Approach to Teacher Induction Programming

Dr. Missy Davis Hill (Chesterfield)

The COVID-19 has pandemic exacerbated an already serious teacher retention issue in public education, and currently, school divisions nationally to face a significant teacher shortage for the 2021-2022 school year. This session focuses on data collection and data review strategies to improve the induction year for new teachers by seeking to provide targeted and relevant professional development to early career teachers.


1) Solicitation of Teacher Voice for Induction Programming at the School and Division Level

2) Data Review for Targeted, Year-Long Induction Programming

3) Data Review of Teacher Participation & Impact on Retention

Macon Mentors: A Partnership to Support Cooperating Teachers in Student Teaching Experiences

Julie Dauksys (Hanover, VCU), Amy Thompson (Hanover)

This presentation will highlight the partnership developed between Hanover County Public Schools and Randolph-Macon College through the Macon Mentors cooperating teachers program. Participants will learn about the research and development of the program, and the mentoring relationships developed between cooperating teachers, college supervisors, and student teachers.


1) Cooperating teachers as mentors develop stronger relationships with and support for student teachers.

2) Cooperating teachers, through communities of practice, can develop their skills of modeling, dialog, and reflection.

3) Partnerships between schools and colleges/universities foster ongoing professional development.



Thread: Promising Equity Strategies

Supporting Positive Youth Expression in a Post-COVID World

Vicki Yeroian (GLSEN Richmond & Podium RVA), Candace Weather (Podium RVA) 

Understanding the experiences of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ youth in an era of changing virtual and socially distanced school and how to facilitate supportive, trauma informed spaces for personal expression and celebration of identity.


1) How to provide supportive spaces for healthy youth expression in a digital world

2) Strategies for how to discuss COVID-related changes in school standards and norms.

3) Understanding modern school-based and virtual learning experiences of historically marginalized youth groups, particularly LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC youth.

Cav Congress: High School Students in Equity Work

Korinthia D. Nicolai (VCU), Ibrahim Omeish (Student at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax), Leo Lee, (Student at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax), Omeed Shahbazi (Student at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax)

High school students will present (a) why equity is important to them, (b) how they have implemented activities to support equity in the past year, and (c) future plans to continue promoting equity and amplify the voices of all students. Additionally, connections to motivation research will be presented.


1) Attendees will hear from high school students directly.

2) Attendees will leave with actionable ideas to bring equity to the center of high school student life.

3) Attendees will learn about motivation research as it connects to Cav Congress.



Thread: Promising Retention Strategies

(MERC Research) Will They Stay or Will They Go? Lessons Learned from the MERC Teacher Retention Study

Jesse Senechal (VCU), Kasey Dye (VCU), Valerie Robnolt (VCU), Elizabeth Edmondson (VCU), Erica Ross (VCU), Adria Hoffman (VCU), Jonathan Becker (VCU)

In this session, the MERC Teacher Retention Team will share highlights from a range of projects focused on the factors that support retention in the PK12 system. Connections will be made across the projects and attendees will dialogue about practical steps that can be taken for supporting the profession moving forward.


1) Attendees will learn about a range of research projects connected to the MERC teacher retention study.

2) Attendees will engage in dialogue to consider the connections across the projects and practical implications for policy and practice.

3) Attendees will have opportunities for networking with other educational stakeholders interested in teacher retention.



Thread: Promising Student Wellbeing

(MERC Research) Understanding The Mental Health Impacts of Covid-19 on Pk-12 Students: A Systematic Review of The Literature

David Naff (VCU), Shenita Williams (Henrico, VCU), Jenna Darby, (Chesterfield), Melissa Yeung (Bowling Green State University)

This presentation will share highlights from a systematic literature review of all empirical research published between March of 2020 and May of 2021 focused on the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on PK-12 students. Researchers will share the five themes that emerged from the review: the disruptive nature of COVID-19, the connection between caregiver and student mental health, the broad mental health impacts of the pandemic, particularly impacted student groups, and evidence of resilience and coping in students during the coronavirus. Practical strategies for offering mental health support to students in schools will be shared.


1) Participants will learn empirical evidence of the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on PK-12 students.

2) Participants will learn evidence of positive strategies that students have developed to cope during the pandemic.

3) Participants will learn practical strategies for supporting the mental health of students in schools during and after COVID-19.

Making Mindfulness Accessible in PreSchool & Elementary Classrooms

Matt Shenker (Hanover, The Mindfulness Counselor)

Mindfulness and emotional regulation skills are quickly becoming essential skills that all schools need to teach and support. What does the process look like for doing this with our youngest students? Matt worked as an elementary school counselor for four years and now works privately as a Mindfulness teacher, counselor, and consultant. In this session he shares the multi-year process he led and the blueprint he follows when working with other schools and districts.


1) Attendees will leave with an expanded understanding of mindfulness and emotional regulation

2) Attendees will leave with a greater understanding of why specifically teaching emotional regulation skills is essential in elementary classrooms

3) Attendees will leave with an example blueprint of a multi-year staff professional training process that moves from science-based philosophy to practical tools and systems.

Providing Effective Student Supports: Making MTSS Work in Middle School

Mike Littleton (Williamsburg James City County Public Schools), Ronald Wallace, (Williamsburg James City County Public Schools)

The Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) model is designed to create an educational environment that is built on effective procedures, and a program to provide individual supports for students in need. In this session, facilitators will share how they developed an effective MTSS program in their school, and share an organizational framework for teams to establish an individualized program that will lead to student success.


1) Discover how to develop an effective MTSS team in your school.

2) Establish a method to create school-wide goals that meet the specific needs of your school community.

3) Share an organizational framework for teams to establish an individualized program which will lead to student success.




Thread: Promising Access


Alison Dossick (VCU)

I will share how to combine the tenets of Universal Design for Learning and Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, applying these to increase SPED students’ sense of belonging STEM. I will also share specific strategies to use in STEM classrooms to increase the accessibility of content and experimentation.


1) Making a STEM classroom accessible to all learners need not be difficult.

2) Easy changes can be made for students to reinforce learning.

3) A student's STEM identity is enhanced by relevant and accessible lessons.

Purposeful Diversity in Computer Science Education: Successes and Challenges at a Regional Magnet School

Amy Corning (VCU), Jon Becker (VCU), Samantha Hope (VCU), Kume Goranson (CodeRVA), John Mustachio, (CodeRVA), Jasmine Simmons (CodeRVA)

CodeRVA Regional High School is a magnet school that prepares a diverse group of students for futures in computer science. Our research evaluates its success in ensuring equitable access and reflecting the region’s diversity, providing a unique educational experience, and promoting students’ sense of interest and belonging within computer science.


1) Appreciate the value of a carefully designed and executed evaluation of an educational intervention.

2) Learn how a regional high school can increase equity of access to computer science education and bring together a diverse group of students.

3) Gain understanding of the importance – and challenges – of furthering diversity and equity in STEM education.

Hybrid Spaces that Promote Science Discourse in CCPS & RPS Middle Schools

Martinique Sealy (VCU), Christine Bae (VCU), Lauren Cabrera (VCU), Jessica Gladstone (VCU), Tracee Foster (Richmond), Michael Stange (Chesterfield),  Eeman Salem (Chesterfield)

VCU researchers and RPS/CCPS middle school science teachers conducted action research in virtual classrooms with the goal of creating equitable opportunities for science discourse in 2020-21. We will highlight 1) examples of discourse activities used in f2f and virtual platforms and 2) lesson study as a research-practitioner partnership model.


1) Attendees will further their understanding of science talk opportunities that engage students’ need to connect content to their own lives

2) Attendees will learn how ongoing collaborations allowed teachers to observe one another's practice and how valuable teachers sharing and learning from one another has been during this project and pandemic.

3) Attendees will hear how teachers gradually adapted their lessons to accommodate students’ especially during this time of major crises and transitions



Thread: Promising Equity Strategies

Supporting Inclusive Multilingual Learner Family Engagement: Policies, Practices, and Models

Hali Massey (VCU), Kate Rolander (VCU)

Family and community engagement in education are strong predictors of student achievement, especially for multilingual learners. This session outlines family engagement policies, equitable family engagement resources, inclusive engagement strategies, and strategies to support instructors and staff in this work to harness the full potential of diverse learners.


1) Understanding of many of the challenges multilingual families encounter in their schools nationally and in Virginia

2) Identification of federal, state, and local division policies that impact family engagement for multilingual learners

3) Culturally responsive strategies and inclusive models for implementing family engagement practices with multilingual families

From Exclusion to Inclusion – Transforming the Institutional and Human Barriers to Educational Resources for Vulnerable, Marginalized Student Populations

Peter Willis (Chesterfield)

Vulnerable, marginalized student populations face exclusionary school environments because they lack social, economic, and cultural capitals recognized and valued by schools and school personnel. A critical examination of school policies, practices, and personnel offers the possibility of transformative change to create greater equitable access to educational resources for all students.


1) School policies and practices must undergo critical examination to determine their effects on vulnerable, marginalized student populations. Students who are members of these populations should be encouraged to participate in the critical examination.

2) School personnel must examine their roles through a critical lens to determine whether they serve as agents of enforcement for exclusionary policies and practices or serve as agents of empowerment for vulnerable, marginalized student populations. Schools and school divisions should provide professional development to not only address bias, equity, diversity, and inclusion but also build capacity for empowerment and transformation.

3) Exclusionary school policies and practices are not self-enforcing, so researchers must examine how school personnel create exclusive or inclusive schools.



Thread: Promising Student Support Systems

Sustaining a Balanced Calendar Initiative

Taylor Snow (Henrico), Elizabeth Baber (Chesterfield), Brandon Petrosky (Henrico)

What internal and external factors affect the sustainability of a major school policy initiative like the shift to a year-round school calendar? How can school leaders apply these lessons to their own school and division-based policy initiatives?


1) Careful consideration of factors that drive the support of internal and external stakeholders and effective and systematic communication with those groups is vital for sustainable policy initiatives

2) Purposeful design of instructional leadership structures that leverage the talents of both current and burgeoning instructional leaders to supervise extended school time is critical

3) Without community support, year-round and extended school calendar initiatives are difficult to sustain.

Using Machine Learning to Support Student Attendance Practices

Eric Ekholm (Chesterfield), Patricia Fox (Chesterfield)

In this session, we describe how Chesterfield County Public Schools used student-, school-, and community-level data to develop a model predicting which students would likely be chronically absent in the future, as well as how school and division leaders used information from this model.


1) Using big data approaches, divisions can accurately predict which students will be chronically absent in the future

2) Statistical models can help educators develop targeted, proactive solutions

3) Machine learning can address equity concerns



A panel of educators and researchers from the MERC region who were featured in the MERC "Promise of Public Education" podcast series will discuss their vision for different facets of public education "in a new era." Featuring:

Matt Caratachea - Coordinator of Technology Integration and Innovation, Goochland County Public Schools

Erica Daniels - School Counselor at Vernon Johns Middle School, Petersburg City Public Schools

Serra De Arment - Assistant Professor, Counseling and Special Education, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education

Sera Lee - Second Year Pharmacy Student, Virginia Commonwealth University

Alex Peskin - Junior at Goochland High School, Goochland County Public Schools

Patricia Woodberry - Gifted and Talented Teacher, Richmond Public Schools

Moderated by Victoria Parent (English Teacher at Monacan High School, Chesterfield County Public Schools) and Alma Kenup (English Teacher at Quioccasin Middle School, Henrico County Public Schools)


Sessions at the 2021 MERC Conference are organized according to X “threads” to indicate the type of content covered in the presentation. These threads are aligned with our conference theme “Promise of Public Education:”intended to help you plan your day at the conference. 


Breakout 2: (Session 4) Research-Based Approaches to Expanding Access and Success in Advanced Coursework Across K-12 

Breakout 3: (Session 7) Promoting Equitable Academic Opportunity from Kindergarten to College

Breakout 6: (Session 15) Advancing STEM Education in a New Era


Breakout 1: ​​(Session 2) Teaching with Social Justice in Mind

Breakout 4: (Session 12) Promoting Student Voice in Critical Conversations

Breakout 6: (Session 16) Supporting Marginalized Student Populations


Breakout 2: (Session 5) Strategies for Developing Research Partnerships to Guide Practice

Breakout 4: (Session 10) Leveraging Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships for Evidence-Based Decision Making


Breakout 2: (Session 6) Supporting Teachers in High-Poverty Schools

Breakout 5: (Session 13) Will They Stay or Will They Go? Lessons Learned from the MERC Teacher Retention Study


Breakout 1: (Session 1) Profiles in Adapting Postsecondary Instruction During COVID-19

Breakout 6: (Session 17) Data-Driven Practices to Support Student Success


Breakout 3: (Session 9) Considering Context and Culture in Student Support Services

Breakout 5: (Session 14) Supporting Student Mental Health in Challenging Times


Breakout 1: (Session 3) Strategies for Promoting Teacher Leadership

Breakout 3: (Session 8) Action Research to Develop Teacher Leaders

Breakout 4: (Session 11) Holistic Approaches to Supporting New Teachers