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ISU Works With Central Illinois Community Colleges On New Elementary Teaching Program

Officials in Illinois State University's College of Education (located in DeGarmo Hall, pictured here) hope a new elementary education pipeline program will provide a solution to the state's ongoing teacher shortage.
Illinois State University
Officials in Illinois State University's College of Education (located in DeGarmo Hall, pictured here) hope a new elementary education pipeline program will provide a solution to the state's ongoing teacher shortage.

As Illinois schools continue to deal with a teacher shortage, Illinois State University is working on a program to bring educators to communities across central Illinois for elementary education. ISU is collaborating with five community colleges to make it possible.

The program includes Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois Central College in East Peoria, Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, and Spoon River College in Canton.

In addition to student teaching, students in the program would take courses in an online or hybrid model on a part-time basis over the course of three years, with limited Saturday in-person classes on ISU’s campus also offered. The elementary education program is part of the College of Education’s School of Teaching and Learning.

Kelli Appel is director of enrollment and transition services in the College of Education. She said the effort tries to reach students who wouldn't be able to take part in a standard teacher preparation program in Bloomington-Normal, whether because of work or family obligations.

"I think we're really helping with the teacher shortage by looking at the needs of specific areas and trying to be flexible with how we can best work in those areas outside of our traditional models," said Appel. “I hope that some of our rural schools will benefit from that and these are teachers who will remain in the school.”

Teachers in the program would receive an English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement.

“It is becoming more and more of a need, in a way to effectively meet all students’ needs in the state,” said Appel.

ISU Dean of Education Jim Wolfinger said superintendents and community college presidents worked in collaboration with ISU for more than a year to develop the program.

"What we hear is how do we deal with a teacher shortage where we have people who live in the community who would like to be teachers, but they're place-bound?” said Wolfinger. “They have a mortgage, they have a spouse with a job, they have kids in school, they can't pick up and move to Bloomington for an extended period of time."

Wolfinger said the aim of the program is to get people who are committed to a community to be teachers there.

“The model of people moving to Illinois State, getting their degree and their teaching license doesn't work very well for a lot of communities,” said Wolfinger. “When they graduate, they tend to gravitate to certain communities in the state, say, the west suburbs of Chicago or places like that.”

Wolfinger said if the initial elementary education effort succeeds, the model could expand to areas such as special education or early childhood education.

“We see this as kind of a great model for a pipeline collaborative project for community colleges, P-12 districts, local communities and us,” said Wolfinger.

But Wolfinger said the program is just one way of bringing teachers to communities who need them most. The College of Education also offers pipeline programs specifically for Peoria and Chicago under the CommuniTeach umbrella.

“We know that there's a huge shortage, a huge need,” said Wolfinger. “We're doing this kind of work in different contexts around the state.”

Students in the Community Partner Pathway program will take courses at one of the community colleges before moving on to ISU.

Appel said ISU's classes for the partnership will begin in fall of next year. Applications have already opened.

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Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.