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College of Education

UofSC initiative paves the way for new teachers in rural areas

College of Education collaborative program helps reduce teacher shortages in SC communities

By Carol J.G. Ward

Ronnica Young wanted to become a teacher because she admired the great educators that came before her, but she says her path to fulfilling that goal was filled with self-doubt.

“I can genuinely say today that I have removed all doubt, and I’m walking into my passion,” Young says.

This fall, Young is a fifth-grade teacher in English, language arts and social studies at Wallace Elementary Middle School in Marlboro County School District. The Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation helped Young on the path to her new career.

“The program was what I needed to get back into gear,” she says. “The instructor, Beth White, is very passionate about what she does. I can tell that she wants us to be successful.”

Young is one of 29 new teachers participating in CarolinaCAP, a partnership of UofSC’s College of Education, the Center for Teaching Quality and a consortium of rural districts, to address teacher shortages in rural areas of the state. The initiative paves the way for bachelor’s degree-holding teacher candidates to immediately begin a career as a classroom teacher while participating in the necessary training to become certified. Current participants will teach in 12 partner school districts throughout the state in early childhood, elementary education and middle level science.

“It's been a fascinating experience to learn their backgrounds,” White says of the CarolinaCAP candidates. “Their ages range from recent college graduates to those who graduated over two decades ago. Some have experience with education. Some of them have always wanted to become a teacher. For some, it was being willing to take the risk of following a new career path.”

Both Young and fellow CarolinaCAP candidate Gary Staggers say the appeal of the program is that it allows them to begin their journey as a teacher while simultaneously getting the necessary training and support to make them successful. The program includes strong coaching, based in part on the strategies employed in the College of Education’s Carolina Teacher Induction Program. CarolinaCAP coaches go through training that parallels the training for the candidates. The program also draws upon mentor teachers and a co-teaching model to lend additional support.

For Staggers, who will be teaching first grade at North Mullins Primary School in Marion County, there was an added benefit — taking the classes through his alma mater, the University of South Carolina.

“I wanted to continue with teaching early childhood because I am aware of the need for teachers in general and, in addition to that, the need for male teachers,” says Staggers, who has taught 4K preschool with SC First Steps for three years and also is a professional photographer.

CarolinaCAP launched this summer and will continue through December for a total of 11 weeks of coursework as well as preparation in micro-credentials (demonstrating competency in specific skills). To adapt to COVID-19, classes were held online.

“Participating virtually this summer was smooth sailing,” Staggers says. “The CCAP representatives did a great job with communication and follow ups.”

All CarolinaCAP candidates have a four-year degree, and some have advanced degrees. Many have experience in an educational setting but have not been the teacher of record in a classroom, communicating with parents, making decisions, writing lesson plans or meeting district and state criteria.

That’s why the coaching, mentoring and other support candidates receive through CarolinaCAP is so important, says Barbara McCall, director of human resources for Marlboro County School District. Marlboro County hired seven CarolinaCAP participants this fall. They include three current employees, and one former employee who came back through the program.

“We knew a full-time coach would be needed as they begin this journey,” she says. “Even though most of them have been instructional aides, there are a lot of things that teachers have to know how to do that aides don’t. Our CarolinaCAP coach, Kentrina Bridges, will provide that support.”

In rural districts like Marlboro, one of the biggest challenges to bringing in new teachers is lack of a large tax base to enhance school funding and increase teacher salaries. CarolinaCAP helps address those issues by providing support to recruit community members as teachers.

In Marlboro County, the district’s Board of Trustees, Superintendent Gregory A. McCord and Chief of Staff KaKela O’Banner Robinson recognized the benefits the program could offer in addressing the teacher shortage by identifying homegrown candidates and by offering employees who served in school support roles a path to becoming a classroom teacher.

“I'm just so happy with this partnership because I think it's going to help change the trajectory of some of the ways we bring people into education,” McCall says.

New cohorts of candidates will begin in October and January as the program continues with current school district partners and expands to additional districts.

Young, who is among Marlboro County’s CarolinaCAP hires this fall, is excited about her new career.

“CarolinaCAP gave me an opportunity to do what I love, but also to come back to the state I adore and the school district that groomed me,” she says. “I feel a sense of fulfillment every time I open my classroom door.”

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