Since it was established, Newman University’s Accelerated Pathway to Teaching Program, which enables students to achieve an elementary education degree in 16 months from anywhere in Kansas, has educated more than 400 aspiring teachers.
The program is available through two of Newman’s outreach locations, Western Kansas and Southeast Kansas, as well as the main Wichita campus.
For students in the western region, classrooms are available in Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal, Great Bend and Wichita.
Those in the southeast region can attend classes in Independence and Parsons.
If a student lives more than an hour away from one of those towns, they can get their face-to-face instruction through Zoom. Additionally, the program partners with Cowley College to educate students who want to enter the teaching profession in Cowley County or surrounding areas and take courses at the college’s Arkansas City or Wellington locations.
Many students in the program are community college graduates or non-traditional students who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a short amount of time so that they can start teaching sooner.
With its “life-friendly” class schedule, the Accelerated Pathway to Teaching program is a great option for working adults, including paraprofessionals and substitute teachers. Most courses are available in the evenings, with some summer coursework required. Additionally, the program offers a generous scholarship and is Teach Grant eligible and Kansas Teacher Service Grant eligible.
The program hires adjunct instructors who are also teachers in the school district. This means a Newman instructor in charge of the reading methods course might also be a first-grade teacher in the Dodge City School District.
A couple specific examples include a superintendent who teaches a technology course for the program and a human resource officer who teaches educational psychology. The instructors are connected to their school district, so as they teach in the Accelerated Pathway to Teaching Program, they can draw on real-life experiences, which is a benefit for students.
“The last thing we want to do is produce students who go out and only teach for a couple of years,” said Jessica Bird, interim dean of the School of Education and Social Work. “We want this to be a career calling and to last forever. So I think building relationships and connections, having mentors out there in the classroom, makes a world of difference for our students.”
The Accelerated Pathway to Teaching Program is an advantage for Kansas as it helps to provide quality teachers for school districts across the state. There’s currently a great need for qualified, licensed teachers in Kansas, especially in the southwest region, where “it’s almost a crisis,” according to Bird.
The program, which she describes as “grow your own teacher,” allows students to remain where they live while pursuing their degree. As a result, after they graduate, they go on to find full-time jobs in that same school district.
“It’s a neat opportunity for students to not have to leave home,” Bird said.
In fall 2020, the Accelerated Pathway to Teaching Program had its largest cohort to date with 52 new students. Twelve more started this past spring — the program offers flexible entry in the fall, spring or summer — and while these students are located across the state, a big chunk, 17 students, are currently in Dodge City.
As more students enroll in the program, more small town school districts that have a hard time recruiting teachers will benefit.
“I think our reputation and word of mouth has helped that we have students all over the state of Kansas, from the southeast corner to the southwest corner and anywhere in between,” Bird said. “That’s how I know our reputation is good — because our districts are starting to buy into it. They want to be part of it.”
Teachers are in demand in Kansas
Many smaller school districts often have 40-some job openings after the summer is over, resulting in numerous ramifications from not having enough teachers. So while students in the Accelerated Pathway to Teaching Program are doing their coursework, they might also help fill a long-term substitute teaching position.
“It’s hard to work a full-time job and go to school full time, but when you’re doing what you love, it makes it a whole lot easier,” said Bird.
And this is part of what makes Newman students stand out — their passion.
“I think what’s different about a Newman graduate is that they have a heart for teaching,” Bird said. “It’s a calling, and that’s different than a lot of places where you’re just going to get a degree. (Newman students) are out to change the world, which is very rewarding.”
Another part of what makes the university’s Accelerated Pathway to Teaching Program unique is that every student’s first point of contact is Bird or her student success coordinator or the program’s assistant professor, and those folks are with the students the entirety of the program. Bird is also each student’s adviser from start to finish.
“We’re responsive, we’re caring, we’re supportive,” she said.
In addition to their bachelor’s degree, many students choose to pursue an English as a Second Language (ESOL) endorsement, which can also be used as the basis for a master’s degree if they so choose.
With diverse populations in many small Kansas towns, having an ESOL endorsement is a win-win for both the teacher and the school district.
“Research shows that if a student has somebody who looks like them teaching them, they’re more likely to continue their education,” Bird said. “So we’re trying to get teachers in front of our diverse populations who do look like them, who come from that same background or maybe immigrated to the United States with their family. That connection and relationship they build helps those students continue to go through school and maybe go on to get a higher education degree. Maybe it’s a technical degree, but they stick with it and they know that they can become that person. And that’s a neat thing to have happen.”
As the Accelerated Pathway to Teaching Program continues to grow and provide high-quality teachers for Kansas school districts, Newman graduates will leave a lasting mark on the educations of countless young minds across the state.