In Florida, a bid to expand the teacher pool
A district confronts shortage by recruiting teens to train.
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In middle school, Bonnie got Cs and Ds - and financially, she says, college simply wasn't an option. Now in her final year at Stranahan High in Fort Lauderdale, which has a graduation rate of just 57 percent, the 18-year-old is consistently earning As and Bs.Skip to next paragraph
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"Joining UTAP was the best thing that ever happened to me," she says. "It's given me a direction, a passion in life, something to work at, and a reason to improve myself."
UTAP is expected to yield 150 graduates a year to work in some of the county's 101 underprivileged schools.
The program's first four teachers in training graduated from Stranahan High in spring 2004 and are now studying at Broward Community College.
"The students going through this program are heroes," says UTAP coordinator Steven Peskin. "They have the ability and the willingness to transform lives by bringing something back to their schools. This is a true leadership program."
Initial funding for UTAP came from Dr. Parks, who donated cash left over from his school board election campaign to get things started. Further funding has come from the Florida Pre-Paid College Board, donations from local companies, and the Broward Education Foundation, a nonprofit run by the county. Broward Community College and three universities - Nova Southeastern, Barry, and Florida Atlantic - cosponsor the scholarships.
With their own inner-city backgrounds, UTAP trainees are considered by many to be better equipped to handle the challenges of teaching in poor urban schools: For one thing, they're immune to the 'culture shock' that is often blamed for high turnover among other new recruits.
"We want them to be quality teachers in the kind of schools they went to themselves, the harder-to-staff schools, where they can relate to the children and the children can relate to them," says UTAP coordinator Sara Rogers.
Many of participants, she adds, "are the first in their family to go to university or to even consider it, and our guarantee is that they graduate from college debt-free."
The student teachers undergo 90 minutes of training three times a week, working in a "laboratory classroom" and focusing on fundamentals such as how to make lesson plans and teach children to read. They're also trained to handle behavior problems and social difficulties.
In ninth grade, the students go on field trips to universities and community colleges, where they sit in on classes and taste campus life. "It gives us a real feel for what college will be like when we get there. It makes it less daunting," says Bonnie.
Once a month, they head to local elementary schools to teach 30-minute lessons. Stranahan High School student Vanessa Dike, 16, practices teaching at North Fork Elementary in Fort Lauderdale. Located in Broward's poorest ZIP code, it's made up largely of minorities from low-income backgrounds.
In the process, Vanessa has lost her initial skepticism about teaching.
"Now I see what an awesome profession it is," she says. "We can say to pupils, 'I know what it's like for you, I've been there myself.' We can make a difference."