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On Thursday, West Virginia State Department of Education Officials and State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch met with Educators Rising students from Buckhannon-Upshur High School and Upshur County School Officials to discuss and answer questions about the West Virginia Grow Your Own program.

State Superintendent celebrates Upshur County program to “grow your own” teachers

TENNERTON – West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch shared that there are approximately 1,200 classrooms in West Virginia schools that do not have a fully certified instructor — and that number is predicted to grow to upward of 1,500 classrooms in the not-too-distant future.

Burch and other West Virginia state officials visited Buckhannon-Upshur High School last week to answer questions about the West Virginia Grow Your Own program, which is an initiative developed to provide a college-career pathway for high school students who want to enter the education field.

During Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting, BOE members penned a memorandum of understanding with West Virginia Wesleyan College to establish a Grow Your Own program locally. Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said the school system is excited about the collaboration with the college.

“The intention of this program is to develop high-quality teacher candidates,” Stankus said. “We met with our teacher candidates this week at the high school. We are very excited because we have one student, Alexa Davis, a senior at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, who is a first-generation college student. She feels she is ready to enter the field of education. The Grow Your Own program will allow her to do that, and West Virginia Wesleyan College is right here in her hometown. We hope that in three years, she will be able to join the team in our school system.”

WVWC Interim President Dr. James Moore and Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Lynn Linder attended the meeting for the signing of the memorandum. Moore said it was an honor to be able to partner with Stankus and the wonderful educators in Upshur County.

“As I said to the students we met with last week, all of the important people in my life have been teachers,” Moore shared. “It is with great enthusiasm that we partner with Upshur County to try and move the needle on bringing more quality educators into our public schools.”

During Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting, a memorandum of understanding was approved between Upshur County Schools and West Virginia Wesleyan College which will allow Buckhannon-Upshur High School students to begin pursuing an education degree while still in high school as part of the West Virginia Grow Your Own program. Upshur County BOE members and Upshur County Administrators are pictured with West Virginia Wesleyan College Interim President Dr. James Moore and Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Lynn Linder.

Linder said they are very excited about the partnership.

“I met with Alexa and her family and it is great to see her so excited about starting to be an educator,” Linder said.

Stankus explained that with the Grow Your Own Program, the first year will be completed while the student is in high school – during the students’ sophomore, junior or senior years. The second and third years will be completed at West Virginia Wesleyan College at a discounted or possibly free cost for tuition. She said the West Virginia State Department of Education is working on funding for those years.

“And in the fourth year, three years after they graduate from high school, these candidates can join the teachers in Upshur County Schools at the full salary,” Stankus said. “This is a terrific, fast-track program for those students who are ready to fill this important role. It really is building capacity in our own community. We want our best and brightest to stay right here in Upshur County.”

On Thursday as Educators Rising met with Burch and his staff, students learned more about the Grown Your Own program. Dr. Carla Warren explained the process and said during the fourth year, while students are in residency and teaching in Upshur County classrooms, just like doctors, they will get paid and that year will count as their first year of employment.

“You will be the teacher in that year-long residency,” Warren explained. “The difference is instead of having a one-to-one supervisor, you will have a cohort supervisor along with someone from the university to support you. The cohort will be someone from Upshur County who will give you a high level of support, because going into a classroom at age 20 or 21 will have challenges.”

Warren said the cohort will help the student navigate things like making lesson plans, trauma-informed education, behavior management, classroom management, modeling lessons and providing a very high level of support.

“The cool thing about this pathway is you will earn a salary that fourth year of residency – benefits, seniority and a paid salary,” Warren said. “We are looking at ways to reduce the cost for you. We want to pay for licensure fees, dual credit fees, and then pay a salary the fourth year – all of which alleviates some of that student debt and eliminates the amount of time it takes to earn a teacher licensure. Then, we will continue to mentor you and help you through the national teacher board certification.”

Warren said she read a tweet that reminded her folks do not talk about the joy of teaching enough. She then introduced Upshur County’s own Brian Allman, who is the principal of Rock Cave Elementary School, a former social studies instructor at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School and a 2019 recipient of the Milken Educator Award – which is considered to be the ‘Oscars of Teaching.’ Read about Allman’s Milken Educator Award here.

Warren also encouraged the Educators Rising students to find the person in their life who is encouraging them to follow their dream of being an educator.

“Let those people be your guidepost,” Warren said. “I grew up in a business family, but I decided when I was seven years old I wanted to be a teacher. They tried to change my mind. I had high school teachers who said I was too smart and discouraged me from being a teacher. We need smart teachers in our classrooms. Find those people who inspire you – those are the people you want to hitch on to.”

Allman shared how he did not originally start out to become a teacher but loved social studies and wanted to teach and that is where he is happy. He spoke about the impact teachers have on others’ lives.

In a press release from Upshur County Schools, Stankus said the partnership with West Virginia Wesleyan College will allow Upshur County students to become a part of a local initiative that is meaningful and impactful to the school system and the community.

“Together, we are inspiring future educators,” Stankus said. “The West Virginia Grow Your Own program is part of our community, our investment and our future.”

Additional information about the WV Grow Your Own program is available by contacting Warren by email at carla.warren@k12.wv.us or online at teachwv.com/grow-your-own#teachwv.

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