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Teaching Fellows program develops teacher-leaders for S.C.

by Bell

A group of 36 Coastal Carolina University students are striving to become teacher-leaders through the South Carolina Teaching Fellows program. This prestigious program recruits talented students into the teaching profession and helps them develop leadership qualities.

“Teaching fellows at CCU are held to a very high standard,” says Amanda Darden, director of the program in CCU’s Spadoni College of Education. The college began participating in the statewide program in 2015 and now has two active cohorts:  21 freshmen and 15 sophomores.

The fellows receive a $6,000 annual scholarship ($24,000 over four years) funded by the S.C. General Assembly through the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA). Each fellow is paired with a public school teacher for a mentor relationship that entails spending two hours every week in the mentor’s classroom and participating in a series of professional development seminars.

“By working with my mentor teacher at Homewood Elementary, Sandy Norris, I am able to see what it is like in the classroom from the teacher’s point of view,” said Alexis Del Castillo, a junior math major and communication minor from Myrtle Beach. “I am able to understand the struggles that a teacher must face. It’s one of the most experiential activities I have ever engaged in.”

The overall goal of the program is to develop teachers who will have the skills and the background to become leaders in their classroom, school districts and local communities, according to Darden. Fellows are required to teach in South Carolina public schools upon graduation for each year they receive the fellowship. Homewood Elementary School near Conway has been an important partner in the success of the program. All of the mentor teachers work there, except for two at Carolina Forest Elementary. The program will expand to other local schools near CCU as the program will welcome two more cohorts in the next two years.

The professional development component of the program includes Sunday afternoon seminars, freshman experience, sophomore conference, junior trip and “Hill Day,” a senior-year visit to the state capitol to meet with education leaders and learn about important policies related to education. An international opportunity is now being researched as part of the fellows’ junior year experience.

“Through the seminars and field experiences, I have been given the tools to be an effective educator in the future,” says Zakira Felder, a special education sophomore from Gresham, S.C. “The individuals I have met have provided me with information that will help me become a well-rounded educator in the future.”

The fellows are recruited during their senior year of high school through a competitive interview process conducted through CERRA. The prospective fellows give their top three choices of the South Carolina colleges and universities they prefer to attend. For the 2016-2017 academic year, 868 students applied for 200 openings. CCU is allowed to accept up to 25 students a year. Eleven higher education institutions in the state participate in the teaching fellows program.

According to Darden, half of the CCU teaching fellows are from either Horry County or Georgetown and three fellows from other S.C. universities have transferred into CCU’s program for Spring 2017. South Carolina Teaching Fellows, upon graduating are highly sought after from districts.

“Teaching fellows get real experience in the classroom so much earlier than traditional education majors do,” says Bailey Lewis, a sophomore early education major from Rock Hill, S.C. “The program is definitely preparing me for a future in education by giving me plenty of opportunities I would not have otherwise had, which will help me be the best teacher possible.”

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