<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Virginia Bartel
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Ex-Carpenter Crafting Better Students and Teachers
By Claire Hite

"I think Charleston has a lot of wonderful history, atmosphere and a hodgepodge of people. Culturally, it offers a lot," says Dr. Virginia "Jinny" Bartel, a tenured associate professor in the School of Education, Health and Human Performance.

Since joining the College of Charleston in 1990, Bartel has strived not only to make an impact at the college, but also to change and help the community through her research.

When asked about her passion for teaching, she talks animatedly about her current topic of research: family involvement. She is also concerned with clearing up misconceptions about lower-income public schools and families in poverty.

Dr. Candace Jaruszewicz, a colleague in the School of Education, says, "She is an all-around wonderful, kind person with many years of invaluable experiences in the Lowcountry early childhood community."

With a research opportunity lined up with Harvard and Tufts Universities, Bartel's enthusiasm is at an all-time high. She is hoping to conduct a project in North Charleston designed by Jerome Kagan, a renowned Harvard psychologist. The project will involve helping parents of toddlers understand the importance of skills that will help their young children be successful in school. "The day this whole idea was hatched was one of the most exciting days of my life," she says. "It still is exciting to think about."

But teaching was not always a passion for this Winston Salem, N.C. native. In fact, she changed her major 13 times in undergraduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "I was the first person to graduate with an interdisciplinary studies degree," she says, a course of study that allowed her to choose different disciplines. Her areas of focus were education, religion and sociology.

Even after graduating with a bachelor's degree, Bartel was still unsure of her career path. But she did know one thing- that her area of study was too intangible. "I wanted to see concrete results instead of just ideas, so I became a carpenter,"she says. When carpentry proved too much for her, she went back to Chapel Hill and got her master's degree in guidance and counseling, with the dream of becoming an elementary school guidance counselor.

However, fate intervened when Bartel visited an elementary school in Charlotte. "It was so wonderful, I decided I wanted to be a teacher,"she said. This took her again back to school to attain the 30 more credit hours needed in addition to her master's degree for a certification to teach. Although many would take this as a discouraging challenge, Bartel was excited, and was able to work for a year at the school in Charlotte as a student teacher.

With a reminiscent smile, Bartel still likes to speak of the lasting impact of this school on her own development as she continued to teach and help children throughout the community and the South.

Her first teaching job was in Charleston at Mitchell Elementary School, then later at Memminger Elementary, just a few blocks from the College of Charleston campus. She also served the Charleston County School District as a parent educator in 16 different schools. Memminger Elementary remains a large part of her life, as she wrote her dissertation on it when she earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

In fact, a part of her current research focus stemmed from her time at Memminger Elementary-ensuring that people don't jump to conclusions about children and families in poverty. She believes in the importance of understanding where these families come from. "I learned so much," Bartel says of Memminger. "I came to see how parents feel about schools and their relationships with teachers. Since teaching at Memminger, part of my heart is there," Bartel says.

Furthermore, a colleague of hers has a motto that Bartel can identify with- "rigor, relevance, relationships." While parental involvement is important, Bartel says it is not the only factor in a child's success. She stresses the fact that although a parent may not show up for parent-teacher conferences or PTA meetings, that does not mean they are not a good parent. "Part of it could be because of their job, or even being afraid to be in uncomfortable situations," she says. "They may feel they’re not good enough because they didn't do so well in school themselves."

On that subject, another area that Bartel defends wholeheartedly is South Carolina public schools' standardized test scores. Most people think that this state consistently places low in national test scores because of a lack in intellect or a poor quality of education. "That's a common misconception," she says. "South Carolina has one of the hardest tests in the nation, so it's not fair to compare us with other states."

While she says that poverty does play a big role in many things in the world of education, she says it is unfair to children and teachers to assume that children should have the same achievement standards. "In my opinion it is developmentally inappropriate to expect everyone to be on the same level and it just isn’t fair, Bartel says.

She feels that instead of evaluating children on their test scores, they should be measured on how far they have come and how much teachers have helped them learn.

With a quizzical look on her kind face, Bartel mulls over the answer to what could be perhaps the most important question: What should everyone understand about family involvement in schools? After some time, her consideration proved fruitful and she quietly and thoughtfully uttered her response.

"People should know that the majority of parents do care about their kids, they just may not know how to show it," she says. "There are always problems caused by stereotypes or biases formed by past experiences. Changing assumptions is not easy. By short-changing our kids, we're short-changing our futures. We're holding them back developmentally, socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively. And that needs to change."

"Jinny is one of the warmest, most caring people I know," says Kelly Mayer White, a fellow education professor at the college. "She genuinely loves children and wants to see them thrive in their classrooms. She wants to make sure children leave school with a love for learning."

Bartel is very excited about the work she does and wants you to be excited about it as well. Her caring spirit revolves around helping to serve and improve the lives of children. "A dream of mine is to reduce the amount of poverty in the world," she says.

It is hard to meet a truly genuine and caring person, let alone be taught by one. But the College of Charleston lucked out in finding Dr. Bartel, a genuine asset to the faculty at this school.