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ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — There are only a few weeks left in the school year, but one Piedmont school district already has big plans for next year, and the years to come. Alamance-Burlington School System is starting its first year of the Alamance Scholars Program. It’s a way to start training teachers while they are in high school.

The Alamance-Burlington School System, Elon University and Alamance Community College are all working together on this common goal.

“The Alamance Scholars Program is designed to guide and support students who are interested in teaching from high school to ACC, all the way to their graduation day from Elon University, up until their first classrooms when they become teachers,” said Shanina Doe, an early childhood education instructor with Alamance Community College.

It’s a different kind of partnership for these three education systems, but one they say will help students and teachers.

“It’s definitely something different, but instead of competing for resources, we’re putting our resources together to help as many students as we can. We’re working closely together to be that strong support system for our students and future educators,” Doe said.

The program is designed to give students two different opportunities to get their education degree through Elon University.

“There’s two times you can join the cohort. One is at ABSS as a junior, you can join a cohort that will go all the way through. You can also enter through Alamance Community College. There will be a limited number of spots, but if there are spots open we will take folks who go back through the community college and they want to be a teacher and transfer into the program,” Ann Bullock, the dean of the School of Education at Elon said.

For students who join in high school, at the end of their senior year, they could earn a minimum of 20 college hour credits that would then transfer to Elon University. This year some seniors will be allowed to start the program as well since it is in the first year, though they won’t be able to get the benefit of the program.

“So they’ll be exposed to that. We’re also going to offer seminars, guest speakers, so that we have folks who are in the field, they come in and they share things, have our college professors come in and explain what it’s like to go through a teacher prep program,” ABSS Chief Secondary Officer Revonda Johnson said.

It’s an opportunity for students to start their education and their career in an affordable way. 

“One thing I’m excited about is we do dip our toes in these careers prior to in high school, and it’s free for these young people. So to do that and they can say, ‘Oh no that’s not what I want. I can see that. I didn’t realize that what it was,” Johnson said.

Leaders behind the program also see this as a way to keep students in their hometown, from high school to college to their careers.

“So to be able to provide an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, if you’re from here, Elon is reachable for you, becoming a teacher is reachable for you, right here in your backyard. And we’re going to let you do all your practicums and clinical experience here, and then to go back into your same community and give back, it’s just a gift. It’s a gift for all of us,” Bullock said.

That helps set these future educators up for success for their first jobs.

“And doing most of their practicums and clinical in the same schools, they’re going to be very comfortable and should, one, know what their doing and, two, be very successful because they’ve had a lot of practice with the school population and the rules and regulations and all of the things about work we don’t realize until we start,” Bullock said.

It will also help create a pipeline of teachers for the school system. The same students in the classroom now could be the ones teaching in them in five or six years.

“We’re even excited that that’s going to grow our numbers. So if teachers are to retire we have people taking their places,” Johnson said.

That’s a key piece of the program, to help solve a long-standing problem school systems here and across the country are facing.

“The teacher shortage is out there. And North Carolina is not immune to that and neither is Alamance-Burlington Schools. So being able to invest in our young people and hopefully be able to bring them back here as teachers is an exciting thing for us,” Johnson said.

The Alamance Scholars Program also helps keep those future professionals in their hometowns while helping them achieve their potential.

“Because we have so much talent and willpower right here at home, all our students need is just a pathway to push them in the right direction. And the Alamance Scholars program will do just that,” Doe said.

The program has already gained a lot of interest. Alamance-Burlington School System has been holding registration events since the winter. Some middle school students and their families have been attending, trying to plan ahead to get into the program their junior year.

“So that also sparked, ‘What do we need to be doing at the middle school level to get kids prepared?’ Because, you know, one of the things you have to do is be eligible to take CCP courses. You start this program, you’re starting your college transcript,” Johnson said.

It’s also about finding and supporting those students who could one day become incredible teachers.

“I think that we just want to make sure that we’re cultivating educators that are committed and invested in our community. And we know that we have lots of students right now in high school with the right kind of support can be the future educators that our children need,” Doe said.