2+2 Program gives hope to Austin Public Schools in light of teacher shortages

Published 9:50 am Saturday, February 23, 2019

By Edwina Harder

Principal on Special Assignment Gifted Services

You may have seen news about the teacher shortages school districts across the nation are facing. The number of college students going into education is declining, and rural districts are finding it hard to compete with urban areas for the limited number of licensed staff available for hire.

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To help address these issues, Austin Public Schools has forged a partnership with Winona State University (WSU). The WSU 2+2 program, which allows students to earn their Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education in Austin, has provided a pathway for students to live and work in our community while completing their degree.

Students in the program enroll at Riverland for the first two years to complete their Associwate of Arts degree (or bring in undergraduate credits from other institutions), and then spend two years as WSU students with classes held at Sumner Elementary. Students become immersed in this building, completing several practicum experiences.  Students also have a science practicum at Holton, our STEAM building.

These practicums provide students the chance to begin writing and implementing lesson plans while under the watchful eye of licensed staff. They also allow teacher candidates to gain practical experience in the classroom working with the diverse student body we serve.

During their senior year, students have two student teaching experiences. The first six weeks of school they are placed in a classroom where they experience how teachers begin the year. They assist the teacher, work with students daily, and are responsible for planning and teaching a series of lessons. After this experience, the students reconvene for more college coursework.

Then, in January, the students begin their ten-week student teaching experience. Students are required to plan and execute lessons for at least a two-week period during this time. The remainder of the time is spent working with students and learning from the licensed teacher.

Students in this program receive their instruction from two WSU professors, and the cohort size has ranged from 12-20. Because these students and their instructors are together for two years, they form a tight bond. Austin Public Schools works closely with the professors and the Dean of the College of Education to discuss ways we can continue to refine and even grow our partnership.

This program appeals to students for numerous reasons. First, a person can earn their four-year degree while living in Austin or the surrounding area. Students in the program get the benefits of a big college while being taught in an intimate setting. Also, students in this program get experiences in our schools, and many of them choose to apply for jobs in our district or in the surrounding area. Austin Public Schools has hired over ten of the graduates of this program to-date. Other area school districts have also hired students who have graduated from this program. One hundred percent of the students who have graduated from the program and have sought out employment in the teaching field have been hired.

With the advent of the Austin Assurance Scholarship, post-secondary education for all Austin High School graduates becomes a reality. Our partnership with Winona State University makes getting an Elementary Education teaching degree attainable while living and working in Austin. This May we will graduate the 50th student who has gone through the 2+2 program. We are excited to see what the future holds for this partnership and our community.