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Pittsfield Schools And MCLA Partner To Foster Future Educators

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With the help of Greylock Federal Credit Union, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Pittsfield Public Schools have created a program aimed at recruiting more students to make teaching a career.The Greylock Teach Fellows program is aimed at fostering the education of high schoolers who are interested in becoming the people lecturing them. The partnership engages students from Pittsfield Public Schools in workshops, guest lectures and college admission assistance from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Jake Eberwein is the college’s dean of graduate and continuing education.

“I think in doing that we insure we have a pipeline of future educators who represent a diverse background and are excited about impacting children who move through our communities,” Eberwein said. “I think if we have strong schools we have strong communities. It’s really that simple.”

A $100,000 grant from Greylock Federal Credit Union is supporting three years of the program, involving 10 to 15 students each year. At no cost to them or their families, the students take MCLA’s introductory education course during afterschool sessions in Pittsfield. Hoping for a future in English education, Pittsfield High School senior Rachel Nicholson is one of the students taking the class.

“There are a lot of different things like how gender and race contribute to how people experience school and how they learn different things,” Nicholson said. “The location of the school – how that influences how much a student might learn and the experiences that they’re going to have.”

If successful, they will get three transferrable college credits, which according to Eberwein costs roughly $900 at MCLA. Taconic High School junior Jennifer Osafo isn’t sure she wants to be a teacher, but wasn’t about to pass up a chance to broaden her horizons and get a taste of college.

“I definitely like the college course a lot better because it’s more discussion-based and open,” Osafo said. “There are less kids in the class so the environment is more friendly and open. It’s a fun experience and it gives us an opening on what college is actually going to be like.”

The initiative aims to reconstitute Future Educators of America clubs at Pittsfield and Taconic while also sending the “Greylock Fellows” to elementary and middle schools for practical teaching experience. Again, Eberwein.

“To serve as sort of mentors for younger children in the district,” Eberwein said. “Partner them up so they have an opportunity to act in the role of mentor and assistant teacher to get a feel for what the experience of working with children is.”

The program focuses on recruiting students interested in high needs areas like science, technology, engineering and math while also reaching out to minority students. More than 50 percent of Taconic’s faculty are graduates of the school, according to Principal John Vosburgh.

“It’s always a challenge to find someone with the content knowledge that is still able to connect with kids,” Vosburgh said. “So it can be tricky.”

Due to increasing student enrollments, retirements and new laws mandating class sizes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the U.S. will need to hire nearly half a million additional teachers by 2018. Even with decreasing enrollment numbers in Berkshire County and an overall population loss, Vosburgh says the shortage impacts the area as well.

“We’re not exactly in the hub of Boston, Worcester, Springfield or Providence so our population doesn’t lend itself to a huge candidate pool,” said Vosburgh.  

Osafo says she hopes to become a forensic biologist, potentially folding teaching into the mix. She says it takes a specific type of person to be an educator.

“It’s definitely something that’s inside you,” Osafo said. “Obviously everyone has a gift and if teaching is your gift you put your all in it. I’ve definitely witnessed people that are meant to be teachers. They really care about their students and will do anything for their students to succeed. I think that’s what makes a great teacher.”

MCLA staff will also help the high schoolers explore college opportunities and financial aid. The hope is to expand the program to more Berkshire County schools.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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