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Eight Chinook High school students get head start on college

 

April 11, 2018

Eight juniors and seniors at Chinook High are part of a statewide dual enrollment class to help bolster the pool of potential teachers for small rural districts. CHS Librarian and teacher Tammy Edwards through MSU-Bozeman and Gallatin College teach the class. Pictured are students in the class, with Mrs. Edwards. Front row, l-r, Hannah Wendeln, Chelsie Fox, Madison Inman, MacKenzie Gruszie. Back row, left to right, Trajan Hannum, Tamer Jamieson, Ross Reed, Teacher Tammy Edwards. Garrett Lowham was not available for the photo.

Eight juniors and seniors at Chinook High (CHS) are taking Education 101, Teaching and Learning, as a dual enrollment course through MSU-Bozeman and Gallatin College. The course, designed for first year college students, is an introduction to the profession of public school teaching. Students who successfully complete the course earn college and high school credit-three semester hours of college credit and half credit for high school. Tammy Edwards, the Librarian for Chinook Schools, is teaching the class. She took special graduate training that prepared several high school teachers to offer the class to high school students.

Opportunities for dual enrollment are more common in larger, metropolitan school districts. The current dual enrollment classes being offered at nine sites around the state are believed to be the first ever available to rural high school students in Montana. Funded through a Title II federal education grant, the program was offered this school year at: Chinook; Big Sandy; Havre; Saco; Opheim, Malta; Savage, Sidney and Lambert School in Fox Lake. One of the principal architects of the program, Dr. Nigel Waterton of MSU-Bozeman, said there were about 45 high school students in this program.

Dual enrollment courses allow high school students to get a head start on their college work and usually are at a reduced tuition. Students in the current high school/college classes paid $155 (through Gallatin College) versus the typical $800 at a state university. The class is transferrable to all Montana colleges and universities and most institutions of higher education around the country. Dual enrollment courses also give high school students an introduction to how college classes are presented-especially the additional reading and writing requirements.

Why a grant to teach college classes to high school students?

Dr. Nigel Waterton, Assistant Teaching Professor, Curriculum and Instruction at MSU-Bozeman, said in a phone interview, "This program to introduce high school students to teaching is one of several initiatives going on in Montana to address the difficulty of recruiting and retaining teachers in small, rural school districts." He wrote earlier, "We think meeting rural Montana teacher needs may be done best close to home." Waterton called the initiative part of a national "grow your own teachers" movement.

In a 2016 story Chinook School Superintendent Darrin Hannum gave an example of the challenge to recruit teachers in rural districts. He said, "In a typical year Montana colleges and universities will graduate about 800 education majors. Of those, 200 will never teach. Of the remaining 600, half will leave the state to find teaching jobs. Of the 300 who stay in Montana, 150 will stay in the bigger cities to teach or do something else. That leaves 150 Montana grads, each year, for the rest of the state. That's not a very big pool."

MSU has offered dual enrollment classes in the past. They had offered EDU 101, the class taught in this new program, at high schools in Bozeman and Livingston. Waterton thinks that experience helped the university to secure the Title II grant through the Office of the Commission for Higher Education. He added, "We got notification of the grant and had to quickly identify districts that would be interested in the program. We decided to focus on central and northeast Montana since that's where many of the smaller school districts are." Phone calls were made to districts in the identified region and nine locales were interested.

Administrators within the participating Districts nominated teachers selected for the dual enrollment class. Waterton said, "We asked for teachers who "would best represent teachers well." Those nine then participated in a summer program to prepare them to teach EDU 101. "These were all seasoned teachers," Waterton added, "we weren't training them to teach, we introduced the course objectives and gave them space to figure things out." Tammy Edwards said most of the course was online with three days on campus. Both Waterton and Edwards mentioned how much the teachers enjoyed being together and sharing their teaching expertise. Seven of the nine schools offered EDU 101 in the fall, two, including Chinook, are currently offering the class.

EDU 101 at CHS

I was able to meet with the Chinook High class in early April. Tammy Edwards said the school counselor suggested to eligible students that they take the class if they had any inclination toward teaching. It would be a great opportunity to earn credit and learn about teaching. Turns out that six of the eight who registered for the course were already interested in teaching. Three of the eight have a parent who teaches and several had family members who are or had been teachers.

The class meets daily, rather than three days a week if it were on the MSU campus, in the same time frame as a high school class. Edwards said the class is "seminar-based" meaning there's a good bit of outside reading and preparation with class time devoted to discussions about the reading topics. The students read three books, part of the curriculum, and wrote several 'academic' papers. There's also an emphasis on use of higher level thinking, like analysis, judgement and evaluation of material, rather than memorization of facts. Much of the in-class work is led by the students.

The CHS students had a variety of reasons why they took the class from "it was a good deal on the cost of the college course" to one student, not interested in teaching, but was drawn to the class for the extensive reading and writing assignments. Asked what they learned about teaching that surprised them, a couple commented on a book titled "Educating Esmé," really a diary of a first year teacher and her success and challenges. Another mentioned the realization of the 'connectivity,' often long term, that develops between teachers and students. Speaking of connectivity, Tammy Edwards shared that she taught half the kids in the college class when they were in first grade eleven to twelve years ago.

Will the dual enrollment classes result in a bigger pool of teachers for rural districts?

It's a bit premature to answer that question, but there are some hopeful signs. I asked the CHS students how the class had affected their interest in teaching. Most said the class reaffirmed their desire to pursue teaching. None said it made them rule out a teaching career. Specifically, one said, "The class helped me see how much fun and creativity teachers can have." Another added, "Learned how flexible teachers have to be to accommodate each student's learning style." And, "Was enlightening to learn what teachers face," left the listener to their own interpretation.

On a larger scale, Dr. Waterton explained, "The federal people who administer the grant have already described the experiment as "money well spent." The grant requires a third, neutral party to evaluate the program's success. That person is in place and soon will be doing interviews and surveys with the students and teachers." Waterton said the people who proposed and set up the experimental program want to know, "Are students who completed the program thinking more teacherly thoughts and more inclined to become teachers? We won't know the answer to that for a while."

Dr. Waterton did say, based on his visits to all nine locales where the dual enrollment class was being taught, "I grew to appreciate what smaller school districts are doing. I think the popular perception is 'small districts don't have much going for them' but that's not the case. I saw some great programs and activities (he listed several) going on, especially the interaction among different age levels of students. You don't see that kind of intergenerational student interaction in big districts."

The "Journal" salutes the 45 students across Montana who explored the prospects of a teaching career through this joint enrollment program. If all goes well we may see some of these kids back in our area as teachers and we can honestly say, "we did grow our own."

 
 

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