The Grow Your Own Initiative, aimed at a nationwide teacher shortage and the huge growth in the district – is a first in Delaware and maybe the nation, a district spokeswoman said.
The Teacher Academy Pathway “has helped me gain understanding of what my true passion and purpose is in life, and that is to reach others through my gift of education,” said Jordan Johnson, who’s working on a five-year plan to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Delaware State University.
“I want to be a teacher because it allows me to shape the future in a fun and creative way all while making a positive impact on the lives of young, impressionable children,” said Madison Billips, who plans to major in elementary education at the University of Delaware.
“I believe that all children deserve a positive, engaging, and safe environment, and by working at my local Boys and Girls Club I found that it is unfortunately very common for children to not have that type of environment readily available, so I would love to provide that for them,” she said.
“For me, it was a no brainer when it came to choosing my career path,” said Ashley Middleton, who will major in elementary education at UD, with a concentration in Middle School Social Studies. ““From a young age I have always loved school.” She’ll also participate in the World Scholars Program, studying and teaching English abroad.
“As I got older I found my passion for helping others, especially with children. I believe that education is something that can sometimes be taken for granted. We live in a world where everyone is not given the same quality of education,” she said.
“I want to be a teacher because I love being able to foster my children in a way that they are able to flourish in their educational, emotional and social path,” Angelie Ross-Jimenez said.
“Being a teacher is not just about content, it’s also about getting to know their hearts, their dreams, their goals, and their needs. I love being able to love on children that don’t have the support they need at home, being an positive influence on their lives that they’ll carry forever.”
Billips, Johnson, Middleton and Ross-Jimenez – all 2021 graduates of Appoquinimink and Middletown highs – were selected from 41 students in the Teacher Academy Pathway, which included a six-credit course offered with Wilmington University. The district hopes to expand the program.
Wilmington University on Wednesday surprised Ross-Jimenez with a four-year scholarship.
“I am super excited about this opportunity and everyone already having arms open wide, welcoming me in,” she said.
They are first eligible to work as substitute teachers, then paraprofessionals. They will also get district mentors while they earn their degrees.
“I would have to say that my teachers Kerry Roesch, Dave Thomas and Cosimo Faella have inspired me the most,” Billips said.
“Mrs. Roesch I had at a very young age, a time when school was at the back of my mind and my work was below average; she helped me to see my full potential all while making a super fun learning experience that I will remember forever and model in my future classroom.
“As for Mr. Thomas, I have always been so inspired by his level of understanding and the relationships he has with his students. His classroom has always felt like such a safe place for me where I know that my needs will be met and I will be heard; I aspire for my students to have that feeling in my classroom.
“Finally, Mr. Faella is an amazing role model not only in education but in life. His class always felt like a learning moment with him by your side, constantly giving feedback on how to improve your work, which showed that he truly cared about each of his students. I truly appreciate everything these teachers have done for me.”
Johnson said both her parents are educators “and I grew up admiring them for what they did. Entering in my freshman year, I wanted to take a different path and become a lawyer. At this time I was in Mrs. [Gina] McKinney’s Human Growth and Development class. She informed me about a new pathway at Middletown High School, called K-12 Teacher Academy. I told Mrs. McKinney I had no interest in becoming a teacher, and she told me just to think about it. Looking back four years later, I can guarantee that was one of the best decisions I ever made. This pathway has helped me gain understanding of what my true passion and purpose is in life, and that is to reach others through my gift of education.
“Mrs. McKinney is the teacher that influenced me the most, because she saw potential in me before I saw it in myself. Mrs. McKinney challenged me to be a better version of myself and I wouldn’t be here without her. Mrs. McKinney put her everything into the Teacher Academy Pathway to push my cohort to our fullest potential. Our greatness and success is a reflection of her hard work. I am very thankful for the impact she has made in my life.”
“I have been blessed to have grown up in the Appoquinimink School District where the schools and faculty are incredible,” Middleton wrote. “However, children across the world are not as lucky. I want to change that. I want to show that every child deserves the same standard of education, and that it is achievable.
“I know that the rode to change begins with going to school, and later on gaining experience as an educator with some of the best teachers within the Appo district. I have been fortunate to have some of the best teachers that have shown me the true value of education. I am beyond excited to learn more from them in future years.
She said she was extremely grateful for all of her teachers, particularly Cosimo Faella at Appoquinimink High and Erin McCullin and Charlotte Priest at Olive B. Loss Elementary.
“Mr. Faella was my ninth grade English teacher along with AP language teacher. He constantly offered support and guidance when it came to my hopes of being an educator. His classroom was always a welcoming environment that constantly invited one with the opportunity to grow — not just as an English student but as well as a person. His passion for education is something I admire and will always be grateful for.
“Starting my senior year my final class within the Future Educators program was to begin my placement. I was on site at Olive B. Loss Elementary (the same school I attended) three days a week. My mentor teacher was Ms. McCullin. She had a second grade class she shared with Ms. Priest. My role in this placement was to start off by observing the class and eventually incorporate lessons and small groups, with the intent on leading a full lesson by the end of the semester.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, Ms. McCullin and Ms. Priest were more than welcoming. In their room I observed the true meaning of teaching. I witnessed students struggling while being introduced to a new topic to them mastering the subject the following week. Seeing the process of teaching felt like magic. Ms. McCullin and Ms. Priest’s classroom was always encouraging and supportive.
“They had a diverse set of learners and encouraged everyone’s unique though process. They supported new ideas and encouraged questions. When it came time for me to conduct my own lessons they were extremely helpful and encouraging.
“While delivering my first solo lesson was a little nerve-racking, they put me at ease with their constraint support. From them I was able to see what my life would look like as an educator. They shared their story of becoming teachers and offered guidance. They have both inspired me to pursue education and showed me the true reward it has.”
“Michelle Semonelle, Elizabeth Bradley and Sherry Stewart were the biggest influences in my teacher path,” Ross-Jimenez said.
“Semonelle was my early childhood teacher that always pushed me to be a better educator and believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. She always gave me new opportunities.
“Bradley was the kindest and most patient teacher during COVID, always checking up on me and others, assisting us through every assignment, understanding the difficulties of each day through that time, loving us so tenderly.
“Stewart was my mentor during my practicum and showed me what an engaged and enthusiastic teacher looks like. Always keeping the students excited to learn.”
The view from educators
“With the population boom we’re experiencing, a Grow Your Own teacher initiative isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said district human resources director Stanley Spoor, one of the program’s co-creators.
“This is a life-changing opportunity for students. They’re going to graduate from college with the security of a job and a supportive network of teacher and principal mentors,” Superintendent Matt Burrows said in a statement.
‘Our Teacher Academy is growing, supporting and sustaining our next generation of culturally competent change-makers,” said Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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