Archived Story

Teaching degree program in second year

Published 10:01am Tuesday, August 26, 2014

With Riverland Community College’s start to the 2014-15 school year monday, the college, Austin Public Schools and Winona State University have come into the second year of the four-year teaching-degree program in Austin.

“As we partnered with Winona State [University] and the Bush Foundation Grant, I think it just became obvious in the things we were doing in terms of teacher preparation,” Austin Superintendent David Krenz said.

“This is just a natural next step in what we wanted to accomplish,” Krenz added.

The school district, Riverland and Winona State partnered to create a four-year program that will allow students to receive an Associate in Arts degree through Riverland and a Bachelor of Science degree to teach Elementary Education through Winona State University — all without leaving Austin.

Students take classes at Riverland for the first two years and then the next two years they will be on site at Sumner Elementary School, taking courses through Winona. Since it is only the second year of the program, organizers won’t see how the on-site classes at Sumner work until fall of 2015.

Sumner Elementary School Principal Sheila Berger is excited for the college students to start being as part of Sumner.

“It’s a great way for our student population to actually see college students and get to know them on a daily basis, so they become really good role models for our students,” Berger said. “At the same time we get to help mold perspective employees that we could someday hire.”

Students will get the opportunity to work directly with general and special education teachers, teachers for English Learners, a gifted and talented specialist, reading and math intervention teachers, a cultural liaison and an instructional coach. They will gain experience during their first two years at Riverland, and receive more challenging placements and more experience during the second two years through Winona.

Teaching teachers

According to Krenz, the program is designed to help students know within the first two years if teaching is what they really want to pursue. The idea is that 40 to 50 students will enroll in the beginning, but many will change their minds and drop the program. The second two years are designed for about 25 students.

“Right away the students, once they’re in the program, will be working in classroom educational settings,” Krenz said. “So they can see right away from day one what it’s like to be teachers.”

The last two years are designed to give future teachers a lot of experience, not only working with children but also learning directly from teachers.

“Our hope is to get the students involved with kids right away, so they can get that experience working alongside that master teacher,” Krenz said. “So then they’ll have a full four years of that experience.”

A similar program has also been successful at Rochester Community and Technical College in partnership with Winona State University and Riverside Elementary School.

College of Education Recoupment Coordinator of Winona State University Karen Dunbar is excited to see students taking advantage of the program.

“The Winona coursework, the plan is for that to start the fall of 2015,” Dunbar said. “But as far as students who are in the pipelines, perspective students, they’re here, and the numbers are growing.”

The program currently has about 27 students, but the numbers are growing. Director of Admissions and New Student Relations at Riverland in Austin Nel Zellar said the school continues to receive calls about the program on a daily basis.

“We have so many [non-traditional students] interested in this program that have families and homes here, and they do not have the luxury of traveling even to Winona, so it’s going to make possible an education that otherwise wouldn’t be for a lot of people,” Zellar said.

Minority teachers

One of the reasons the school district decided to bring the program to Austin is the hope to find more teachers of color.

“Our hope is to help those students also so we have quality minority teachers to come work in our schools,” Krenz said.

Another big hope is to educate students who are from Austin and would like to stay in Austin.

“I think from the school district’s perspective we are trying to grow our own, so to speak, and so offering this program locally would be an opportunity to do that,” Berger said. “It would also help diversify some of teaching staff to match our room student population.”

School leaders are not concerned about the “non-traditional” calendar at Sumner.

“They would see multiple ways that we do address student learning, and really from that standpoint we give them quite a diverse opportunity,” Krenz said.

For students from Austin Public Schools or Pacelli Catholic Schools, there are also scholarship opportunities available. The Hormel Foundation has set up Cycles for Success, a program for students who might not be able to afford college otherwise. This provides two years at Riverland at no cost to the student.

There will be three informational meetings throughout the year for students who wish to attend the program. The first is scheduled for Oct. 23, 2014. For more information or to register, students can email or call 507-292-5126.

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