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Seeking teachers: East Stroudsburg University launches pipeline program for high school students

East Stroudsburg University students lead a session during an aspiring educator conference for high school students.
Sarah Hofius Hall
East Stroudsburg University students lead a session during an aspiring educator conference for high school students.

With a national teacher shortage impacting the region’s schools, East Stroudsburg University wants to help find a solution.

More than 100 high school students learned about the education profession during a conference this week at the Monroe County school. They left feeling inspired and eager to help ease the shortage.

“I would absolutely love to become a teacher,” said Alyssa Koehler, a junior at East Stroudsburg High School South. “This has provided me with the opportunity to confirm that this is exactly what I want to do and where I want to be.”

The university’s College of Education launched the Aspiring Educator Pathway Program last year. From boosting teacher pay to offering more support, groups nationwide are trying to recruit and retain teachers.

The number of teachers certified by Pennsylvania has declined 76% over the last decade, and the state’s colleges also have reported significant drops in the number of students studying education over the last decade.

“If we don't do something locally… our current students and future students will suffer because they need great educators,” said Brooke Langan, dean of East Stroudsburg’s College of Education.

High school students sit in a session during the East Stroudsburg University aspiring educators conference.
Sarah Hofius Hall
High school students sit in a session during the East Stroudsburg University aspiring educators conference.

More than a dozen districts and schools now participate in the program, which includes pairing high school students with mentor teachers for clinical experiences, creating in-school educator clubs and offering dual enrollment classes. The program also offers time on the university's campus, such as the workshops students participated in this week. Mentorship will continue through college with the hopes of students returning to their communities to teach. More districts want to become involved soon, Langan said.

The university and home schools fund the program, which also looks at teacher diversity and supporting students of color. Only 6% of the state’s teachers are people of color, compared to 37% of the state’s students. As of three years ago, nearly half of public schools in the state employed no teachers of color, according to the Pennsylvania Educator Diversity Consortium.

“What we found sometimes with our diverse students, is they didn't know where they belonged in a profession where they didn't see themselves,” Langan said.

Beyond the pipeline program, the university has made other efforts to strengthen the workforce. Course schedules are aligned so education students with more than 60 credits can substitute teach in partner districts on Monday and Friday. Paraprofessionals also can enroll in a post-baccalaureate program to become teachers.

On the second floor of Stroud Hall on Wednesday, the high school students attended sessions led by education majors. East Stroudsburg University junior Abby Zall wants to be a math teacher. She helped lead a session on meeting diverse needs in a classroom.

“This allows them to actually step foot in this situation, and just give them that experience that they need, or maybe that extra push like, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do,’” Zall said. “I think it's just a really great opportunity. And I hope that they enjoy it and use it as a learning opportunity to ask questions.”

Between conference sessions, the campus dining hall buzzed with hungry teenagers eager to discuss education.

Gianna DiGiovanni is a senior at East Stroudsburg High School South. She recalled how after completing her elementary school field experience this year, she cried because she had loved it so much.

“And my teacher was like, maybe this is a sign, like you’ve got to be teaching,” Gianna said. “So it's been really exciting.”

The East Stroudsburg School District has 35 students participating from its two high schools. Amy Polmounter, assistant principal of the south school, hopes students find their passion.

“If it's an interest, they get exposure, and they get to see it before they go to college and just begin to start thinking of what they want to do when they leave us in the high school,” she said. “I think it's just as important for kids to find out what they don't want to do as much as they find out what they want to do.”

After participating in the program, some students determined teaching may not be the right path. But for most, including Isabelle Fierro, a senior at East Stroudsburg South High School, the program provided her with confirmation.

“I've always wanted to go for teaching, but I think this just solidified that I do want to be a teacher,” she said. “This is the path for me. This is what I'm going to do.”

For more information, visit the program website.

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org