Bennett College graduate Gabby Mack wanted to return to school to become a teacher but didn't want to take out more loans to do so.
Luckily, a computer search for teacher education programs turned up not just an inexpensive alternative, but a free one.
Mack is among the first group of students the state is training to become STEM teachers using a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
The program, administered by North Carolina New Schools, trains recent graduates and mid-career professionals to be teachers in those subjects -- tuition free -- in just 15 months. The purpose is to fill the need for high-quality teachers in high-need schools, program director Stacy Costello said.
"There is no cost to them to make the transition from STEM professional to teacher," Costello said.
Mack, who is training at Hillside High in Durham, said the mentoring she has received has helped quell the nervousness she initially felt about being in the classroom.
"So far it's been great," said Mack, who graduated from Bennett in 2010 with a degree in biology. "The teachers have really been helping me a lot."
North Carolina New Schools, which supports innovative teaching and learning in the state's public schools, was awarded the grant in October 2011, and the first group of students started in May 2012.
There are 10 students training in four school systems. The program will expand in August to Guilford County, where several teaching candidates will be placed at The Middle College at GTCC, Costello said.
The current group includes a range of people, from recent graduates to those who have more than 20 years experience in STEM professions, Costello said.
"We have candidates that have math backgrounds, engineering backgrounds, science and technology," she said. "So we're pretty diverse across the disciplines as well."
Tuition, workshops and professional development are all paid through the grant, and student teachers also receive a $2,500 stipend, Costello said.
Prospective teachers train in the classroom under an experienced teacher. They also must take four online courses that address such topics as lesson planning, Costello said.
After 15 months, the students are eligible for a lateral entry teacher's license.
They must teach for three years in one of the state's high-needs schools, which is defined as a school with a high poverty rate, or a school with a high number of teacher vacancies or teachers not considered highly qualified, Costello said.
They are eligible for a professional teaching license after those three years, she said.
Guilford County Schools received the same federal grant a couple of years ago to train STEM teachers to work in the school system.
But Guilford's program is different in that its teachers are hired as full-time teachers and are not student teachers, said Amy Holcombe, the school system's executive director for talent development.
They take Saturday classes, participate in leadership retreats and are assigned coaches to work with them. They earn a full teaching license and are on the tenure track once they graduate, Holcombe said.
"It's a great way to grow our own teachers," she said.
Guilford County Schools is working with four historically black colleges and universities, including N.C. A&T and Bennett College, to recruit minorities for its STEM teaching program, Holcombe said.
"We are working very hard to make sure that our teacher population reflects our student population," she said.
Costello said the North Carolina New Schools program is different from other lateral-entry teaching options in that the prospective teachers do all their coursework before they actually start full-time jobs in the classroom.
Program staff also help student teachers navigate the certification process, and a full-time recruitment and placement coordinator helps them find jobs.
"Our candidates tell us what draws them to the program are the supports that are there to help with the transition," Costello said.
Mack is working this semester in an earth science class. She'll take charge of the class later this month.
In becoming a teacher, Mack said she is most excited about being able to help underprivileged children.
"I'm ready to get in the classroom and start helping students," she said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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