JMU launches program to build teaching pipelines for Virginia school divisions

Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 6:21 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - James Madison University is launching a new program this year to help more people get into teaching. The ‘Grow Your Own’ program will create pipelines for school divisions around the state to produce their own teachers.

“The idea of Grow Your Own is that we are recruiting people who understand the communities they would go back into to teach,” said Dr. Bryan Zugelder, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Partnerships in JMU’s College of Education.

JMU’s College of Education received $4.2 million in state funding for the program. It will consist of a 100-student cohort and each student will get full financial assistance covering tuition, books, and room & board over four years. It also helps the school divisions from which the students came.

“We wanted to work with school divisions that have high teacher turnover and have trouble filling vacancies by helping create attainment and access for people from those particular school divisions to go into teaching,” said Zugelder.

As part of the partnership, every student in the program must maintain a 2.5 GPA and is required to return to their school divisions to teach for at least two years upon graduation.

JMU has partnered with school divisions across the state for the program, including Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Public Schools. Fredrick County, Petersburg, Portsmouth, and Warren County Public Schools are also part of the program.

“It’s really exciting, it’s local students who understand the community coming back as teachers and so it’s one of the tools that we now have access to, to recruit teachers,” said Dr. Oskar Scheikl, superintendent of Rockingham County Public Schools.

Scheikl said that the program is great for Rockingham County students because many of the school division’s teachers are already locals who graduated from RCPS. Rockingham County has the most college freshmen in the program of all the school divisions with eight.

“People who grow up here often times want to return here and so when you encourage local students to go into the education field they often times don’t move on to teach elsewhere, often times they really want to teach in this community,” said Scheikl.

Of the 100 cohort students that will begin the teaching program in the fall, 75 are paraprofessionals who work in schools as teacher assistants or in other positions.

“They might not have the credentials yet to be a licensed teacher. So what we’re doing is maximizing the opportunity for those particular paraprofessionals to get trained, get their degree, and get licensed as a teacher,” said Zugelder.

The paraprofessionals will complete two years at a participating community college as part of the program and then finish the final two years of the program at JMU. Dr. Zugelder said these students will have additional resources available to them.

“These students will get lots of wrap-around support that they otherwise wouldn’t get so this includes tutoring opportunities, it includes stronger advising at the community college and at the university, it also includes professional development opportunities,” he said.

The program is in its pilot phase as the cohort begins this fall and will be reevaluated at the end of the four-year program. JMU says there is potential to expand the program in the future and Rockingham County Public Schools is excited about the possibilities.

“For future iterations, it is then going to work with our existing programs where we identify students who are still in high school but who so promise as future educators, so we have a ‘Teachers For Tomorrow’ program,” said Dr. Scheikl.

Scheikl said that the high school students in the program get supervised experience working with elementary school students and could then be identified to JMU as candidates for the ‘Grow Your Own’ program.

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