MIDDLETOWN — Though they’ve put away their caps and gowns, one group of local graduates will be back in their district's classrooms before long.
On July 7, the Appoquinimink School District honored four 2021 high school graduates — Angelie Ross-Jimenez, Jordan Johnson, Madison Billips and Ashley Middleton — by offering them employment at their alma maters upon obtaining teaching degrees.
The first group chosen from the district’s Teacher Academy Pathway — affiliated with the “Grow Your Own” initiative — these students are now eligible to substitute teach throughout ASD, where they will have competitive compensation and flexible hours and can immerse themselves in in-classroom experiences during their postsecondary studies.
“What we are seeing now … is that we need to shift the narrative around what an educator is, so that young people recognize it as an opportunity to be engaged in their community … and impact their own level of awareness and evolution,” said Jinni Forocucci, a former Delaware State Teacher of the Year and leader of the Teacher Academy program. “(With this initiative,) now, when we think about educators in the future, we’re really naming them as changemakers.”
Luke Rhine, leader of the Career and Technical Education workgroup within the program, praised the district.
“This (initiative) is a huge shout-out to the district,” he said. “It is a time and effort that they have put into their programming globally, and … it is just a testament to the talent of these young people.”
For these four future teachers, the opportunity to see education in action throughout their high school careers has been interesting, fueling their goals to contribute a lifetime love of learning to the next generations of students, both within the district and across the state.
For Ms. Ross-Jimenez of Middletown, being part of the program allowed her to explore the opportunities within a particular career choice, as well as discover the perspectives of those giving and receiving an education.
“As a student, it gave me a newfound appreciation for my teachers and all the work that they do and their heart for kids like me,” she said. “But then as a teacher, it gave me a newfound appreciation for the kids, being able to appeal to their needs … and encourage them throughout their educational (journey).”
Addressing future growth
Established this year by Appoquinimink School District Human Resources Director Dr. Stanley Spoor, Grow Your Own includes the Early Childhood and K-12 teacher academies, based off the State Model Pathways adopted by the district nearly four years ago.
To combat a nationwide shortage of educators, alongside the residential increase within the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area, the program strives to mentor the next group of educators as the district grows. ASD has two schools opening this year and three more being built before 2030.
“With the statewide growth combined with this nationwide shortage, we have to look creatively as to how to fill those positions, and there was no better place to start than in our own community and specifically with our own students,” said Dr. Spoor. “It is prudent on us to look close to our community … (and) to those who are already invested in (that) community.”
There were 41 individuals enrolled in the Teacher Academy Program at both Appoquinimink and Middletown high schools this year, with just the four graduates being selected.
Throughout their four years of high school, program participants take specialized courses exploring the wide range of teaching, including Foundations of Curriculum & Instruction, Human Growth & Development, Teaching as a Profession and Creating Environments for Learning, a dual high school and college, six-credit course offered through Wilmington University.
Students also had the chance to further their studies through supervised, hands-on learning experiences with qualified educators throughout the district.
For their required capstone projects during their senior year, these students planned and led a series of learning activities — totaling a minimum of 50 hours — in ASD and other districts, gathering a work portfolio and presenting a research-based paper or project concerning education.
While the pathway itself might appear complex, for Ms. Middleton of Bear, getting to experience the “full effect” of the program helped prepare her for taking on the extensive range of responsibilities of an educator, both in and out of the classroom.
“Being an educator is something that definitely takes a certain type of person,” said Ms. Middleton, who will be attending the University of Delaware in the fall to pursue elementary education with a concentration in middle school English and social studies.
“Seeing the type of personality and dedication it takes to be a true teacher and someone who really cares about the education system, I really learned that, if you’re not going to be all in it, … it isn’t a career for you. It’s for other people, and that’s something that I really enjoyed seeing,” she explained.
Upon completing their coursework, including statewide teaching certification, hiring requests for each student will be officially finalized.
Students will also be assigned a four-year Human Resources Office mentor to assist them throughout the next chapters of their careers.
Full scholarship awarded
During a recent Appoquinimink school board meeting, with state Secretary of Education Susan Bunting and two representatives from the state’s Career Pathway programs in attendance, Ms. Ross-Jimenez was presented a full scholarship to attend Wilmington University in the fall.
“I’m honestly speechless … (and) overjoyed at what’s happening, knowing that everything is paying off,” Ms. Ross-Jimenez said afterward. “There is so much work that has gone at the district level and on my own part, too, … (and) knowing that my college is paid for and being able to come back to the district that I love is super-exciting.”
As for the future of the initiative, program leaders and contributors alike hope to see the number of participants grow and more “homegrown” future educators hired in the next few years.
While it may look like a long journey ahead, these four individuals feel that they are prepared to take their experiences to the next level — and encourage any of those interested to join.
“I have definitely learned to take opportunities and build all the relationships that you can,” said Ms. Billips, who plans on attending UD’s Newark campus this fall, as part of its 4+1 academic program for elementary education with a concentration in special education.
“In the moment, you don’t expect it to take you anywhere, but then, … you have a ton of great connections that will help you in the future and create awesome opportunities for you down the line.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly state that Ms. Ross-Jimenez received a full scholarship to Delaware Technical Community College.