First ‘scholar teachers’ set to move on

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Scholar teacher Lauren Reason, a super senior at Edgecombe Early College High School, laughs as Martin Millennium Academy first-grader Raquan Pittman, 6, second from right, excitedly builds a tower with classmates Kaileb Dickens-Hines, 7, left, and Liam Padgett, 8, as they work on a measurements assignment on Friday at the school.


Staff Writer

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Edgecombe County Public Schools Scholar Teacher Program will see its first graduates head off to college in the fall with a commitment to come home once college is over.

The innovative grow-your-own teacher program was approved by the Edgecombe County Board of Education in February 2017 and began at the Edgecombe County Early College High School in August of that same year. The program was developed to solve a problem that has plagued the Tier 1 county for years — teacher retention.

Though Edgecombe County Public Schools is one of the largest employers in the county, it has lost more than 23 percent of its teaching workforce over a five-year period.

Now, five super seniors — students in their fifth year of the program that earns them both a high school diploma and at least one associate degree — are expected to graduate from the Scholar Teachers program this year. And all will get up to $30,000 in grants to attend the college of their choice with one major string attached — they must come back to Edgecombe County to teach for at least three years.

“Scholar Teachers is all about developing talent and creating opportunities. The program develops the knowledge, skills and dispositions of Edgecombe County high school students who want to become teachers, and it creates a pathway to bring these highly-qualified young educators back to Edgecombe County Public Schools to kick off their careers,” said Matt Smith, principal of the Early College High School.

Smith said the starting goal of the program is to bring 50 high school students back to Edgecombe County as beginning teachers over the next 10 years. Now in its second year of implementation, the program already has 13 students in the future teacher pipeline: five super seniors, four seniors and four juniors. This spring, the school is looking to recruit up to seven more aspiring teachers for the program.

Funding the scholarships is a challenge for the school district and would be impossible without community support.

“We are grateful for the many contributors who have donated and support the program. We could not have launched this program without the support of the Barnhill Family Foundation, which provided $90,000 of initial funding. Former Edgecombe County judge Phil Carlton and Ricky Thompson have each pledged $10,000. And an outpouring of support from faith-based organizations and private individuals in the community has been inspirational. We see the scholarships as an investment. We invest in our young people’s education, and they reinvest in us by teaching in our community,” Smith said.

The school board also recently approved the creation of a foundation to help raise more funds and make the program sustainable for the future.

As part of the program, Scholar Teachers complete four Teacher Cadet pre-service courses that are taught by Leigh Ann Webb, a National Board Certified teacher with 25 years of experience teaching in Edgecombe County Public Schools.

Webb said she has been impressed with the heart these students already have for teaching,

“It is also very encouraging for me as an educator to know what is coming into the county. I tell all my fellow teachers, ‘There is a real hope in education because this group is amazing,’” Webb said.

Scholar teachers also complete weekly internships in local elementary and middle schools working with mentor teachers who help them learn the ropes, Smith said.

“Our goal is for scholars to begin seeing themselves as future teachers, to learn about the nuances of teaching in Edgecombe County and to enter the College of Education at a four-year university with as much preparation and passion for teaching as possible,” Smith said.

The students are responding to the program with enthusiasm.

“The best thing about this program is the internships. I look forward to Fridays every week because I get to come and spend time with my kids. I like to grow connections with them and help them learn,” said Lauren Reason, who plans to attend East Carolina University next year to prepare for a career as an elementary teacher.

Super senior Jacqueline Dickens transferred to the program from North Edgecombe High School, where she said she saw the impact of families on motivating — or “demotivating” students to succeed. She is interested in ultimately becoming a school administrator, so the Scholar Teacher program appealed to her.

“This new opportunity was a chance to get out of my comfort zone. I have heard that you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable if you want to do things in life and so I thought this was the perfect opportunity,” Dickens said.

Bailey Brake, a senior, wants to teach high school history and said she loves learning about all the different approaches there are to teaching.

‘I want to help other people discover there is joy in education and joy in knowing things about the world. That is something I really want to do,” Brake said.

As far as the requirement to return to teaching in Edgecombe County? The Scholar Teachers are excited by the idea.

“I wouldn’t want to teach in any other school district,” Dickens said.