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Growing teachers: DHS, DSU partnership aims to groom next generation of local educators

Dickinson Public Schools are looking to an unexpected source to help with the local teacher shortage: Its own students. For the first time, Dickinson High School has partnered with Dickinson State University's Department of Teacher Education to o...

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Press Photo by Nadya Faulx Dickinson High School students Chris Prchal, left, Emilee Lucas and Joy Schmitt work on a project for a teacher education course taught by Dickinson State University’s Lisa Daniels, director of field experiences in the department of teacher education. She said the goal of the program is to encourage students to pursue teaching careers close to home.

 

Dickinson Public Schools are looking to an unexpected source to help with the local teacher shortage: Its own students.

 

For the first time, Dickinson High School has partnered with Dickinson State University’s Department of Teacher Education to offer college-level courses to juniors and seniors. The hope is to encourage them to pursue careers in education.

 

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The goal, DHS Principal Ron Dockter said, is to "grow some of our own students in that area" in the hopes that they will one day return, as teachers, to the very schools they once attended themselves.

 

The pilot program is being taught by Lisa Daniels, director of field experiences at the DSU department of teacher education. She had approached Dockter last year about starting the program after seeing it modeled in other schools across the country.

 

"We thought it’d be a good partnership and get some more students that are interested in that as a field," Dockter said. "It’s a good way to explore that area."

 

The three students - two seniors and a junior - were encouraged by DHS counselors and teachers to be a part of the class after Daniels pitched the course at the high school in the spring. Five days a week, the four meet to discuss the philosophy and history of teaching, ethics, standards and how to prepare lesson plans. By the end of September, the students will be helping to teach classes at Jefferson Elementary.

 

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They have to pay tuition for the course, which they would normally take as sophomores or juniors at the university level, but the credits go toward their college transcripts.

 

"They are college students right now," Daniels said. "The level of conversation that these three students have with each other is so deep and so profound. It’s at least on the same level as a traditional college student."

 

Joy Schmitt, a senior in the course, said she was excited when the class was announced last year. The DSU hopeful said she has never considered any other career than teaching.

 

"I thought that this would be a really good way to make sure that this is actually what I want to do," she said.

 

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The course is a step beyond typical career counseling offered to students starting in the seventh grade, Dockter said, in that students receive added hands-on experience in their potential future career.

 

"It helps begin that interest, give them a bit of a head start," Dockter said.

 

And that, in turn, will benefit school districts around southwest North Dakota down the road, especially in the face of a nationwide shortage of qualified individuals going into teaching, Daniels said. The region’s high cost of living and the teaching field’s uncompetitive wages pose challenges to schools looking to bring in staff.

 

"We want to grab those students," Daniels said. "In this area, the teacher shortage is just massive."

 

DPS entered the 2014-15 school year short one high school science teacher and one English Language Learners specialist despite a hiring blitz to fill the 49 positions left open at the end of the last year. The North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders reported hundreds of open teacher positions across the state earlier this year.

 

"Our phone has been ringing off the wall, asking, ‘Do you have anybody?’" Daniels said, but added that the pressure on schools is driving some of the innovative recruiting techniques, like the partnership with DHS.

 

The quarter-long program is just the start of what Daniels said she hopes to build in the long term throughout the district. Once she can show the effectiveness of the pilot, Daniels said she hopes DSU and DPS can find federal grant money to fund a larger, district-wide program to grow future teachers in the area.

 

"People tend to stay close to home," she said. "We’d like for them to stay close to home and not just do oil and gas, but stay close to home and teach, and inspire and change the world."

 

Schmitt said that despite some of the challenges of living in Dickinson - the cost of housing and groceries remain high - she would like to stay in Dickinson after she graduates with a teaching degree, especially if development continues the way it has.

 

"I hope that there’s going to be a lot of teaching opportunities here," she said.

 

Faulx is a reporter with The Press. Contact her at 701-456-1207.

 

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