For some, the decision to attend West Virginia University is an unexpected surprise. For others, it’s something they’ve known all along.
Danielle Poling is one of those Mountaineers who had her eyes set on WVU all her life. A Core native, Poling grew up just 20 minutes outside of Morgantown and often came to campus with her mother, a WVU employee.
“It’s something I always knew,” Poling said. “I’ve always been a part of this community. I grew up here.”
Poling got an early start on her WVU career through the Access WVU Early College Program. As a sophomore at Clay-Battelle High School, she enrolled in dual-credit courses, and as a senior, she was the first Clay-Battelle student to drive to the WVU campus for courses.
By combining her dual-credit and on-campus courses with AP credits, Poling was able to enroll in the College of Education and Human Service’s five-year teacher program and finish in four years. There, she’s pursued her dream of becoming a secondary English teacher.
“I’ve always wanted to do some kind of job where I helped people, or taught people something,” Poling said. “So I just combined my love of English, reading and writing with my love of helping people. That’s how I got into teaching.”
She’ll be graduating with both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees on May 13, in additional to a wealth of valuable experience and training as a future teacher. In Poling’s time at WVU, she has logged more than 1,000 hours of classroom time at East Fairmont High School. Working with East Fairmont students was one of the highlights of her college career.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Poling said. “It definitely confirms that teaching is my place in the world. I absolutely love it.”
While Poling will receive two degrees at Commencement, she has no intention of stopping there. She plans to pursue her graduate certificate in school principaliship this fall and eventually become an education administrator. Beyond that, Poling wants to ensure that she’s always bringing fresh ideas to her students.
“Something they really stressed in my program was continuing education and making sure that you’re a lifelong learner,” Poling said. “That’s something that I really feel strongly about and will definitely do throughout the rest of my career. I want to continue my education to make sure that I’m the best teacher my kids could expect.”
In Poling’s view, being the best teacher for her students also involves being a coach.
For the past four years, Poling has coached softball for Clay-Battelle Middle School, and she started as the volleyball coach this fall. She coaches both sports on her own, with no assistant coaches.
“Whether I’m coaching or playing, I just love being involved with sports,” she said.
A former high school basketball, volleyball and softball player, Poling’s passion for sports has extended far beyond her time as a varsity athlete. For her, sports are about more than titles and trophies – they’re the key to providing her students with valuable skills that will enrich their lives both in and outside of school.
“I think sports teach students so much about teamwork, responsibility and setting goals,” Poling said. “All those things can be applied in the classroom.”
In fact, Poling has the research to prove this belief. As part of her action research project, a large component of the five-year teaching program, Poling conducted a study to determine whether or not activities like sports, clubs and the arts had an impact on student performance.
Through surveys, classroom observations and grade comparisons of 10th grade students, Poling found that the students who participated in extracurricular activities had better grades and classroom performance than those who did not. It’s a lesson that’s she’ll take with her as she prepares to become a teacher.
“Knowing this now, I can further my research when I get my own classroom,” Poling said. “And I’ll make sure that I’m making accommodations for my students involved in outside activities.”
When Poling isn’t teaching or coaching students, she’s looking for ways to give back to her community. During her college career, Poling was heavily involved in the National Council for Teachers of English Mountaineers, serving as president this past year. The role called for her to organize community outreach, which allowed her to spearhead a book drive for victims of the 2016 West Virginia flood.
Under Poling’s leadership, the NCTE Mountaineers chapter was able to raise 5,000 books for those in need. Poling transported those books to Webster and Nicholas Counties and set up stands in high-traffic area, allowing people to take as many books as they wanted.
“It was a great experience, a great way of giving back,” Poling said.
Through NCTE Mountaineers, Poling has also volunteered with the Appalachian Prison Book Project, an organization that allows prisoners to borrow and read books while incarcerated. There she’s collected book donations and helped sort books.
Poling’s work as a preservice teacher, coach and volunteer hasn’t left her with much free time, but she isn’t one to shy away from hard work.
“I’ve always been taught growing up that to be competitive, you have to work hard,” Polling said. “In order to be successful, you have to try. That’s something that’s been ingrained in me.”
Currently, Poling is searching for a teaching job with the intent to stay close to home in West Virginia.