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Minnesota West, District 518 to offer ‘hybrid’ introduction to education course this spring

WORTHINGTON — For the first time, Worthington High School students will have the opportunity to begin exploring a potential career in education.

A collaboration between Minnesota West Community and Technical College and District 518, the three-credit concurrent enrollment Introduction to Education course will be offered to WHS 11th- and 12th-graders beginning this spring.

“We know that kids who even get one (college-level) class done in high school, that really sets them on the pathway to succeed in college,” said Kayla Westra, Minnesota West Dean of Institutional Effectiveness, who is also responsible for K-12 partnerships.

The quarter-long class, which starts at the end of January, will allow students to get a glimpse into early childhood, elementary and secondary education, Westra said.

The class, which is an existing entry-level course at the college, will translate to the high school curriculum as what WHS Principal Josh Noble categorizes as a hybrid course. It will likely be team-taught between Minnesota West and District 518 instructors at the WHS campus, and provide high school students with an opportunity to experience the structure and demands of a college-level class.

“A fair amount of work that (college students) need to accomplish is done outside of class,” Noble said. “It takes a great deal of time management that (high school students) are maybe not used to yet.”  

With that in mind, the course will be divided into classroom instruction, field experience and online responsibility and assignments, Noble said.

At the end of the quarter, students will have acquired approximately 15 to 20 hours of field experience, Westra said.

The field experience may be tailored to individual students’ interests. Students may choose to complete practicums at Prairie Elementary, Worthington Middle School, Worthington High School or even Minnesota West, Westra said. Partnerships with other entities, like preschool or the YMCA, may also be considered, she added.

Another aspect that makes the new intro to education course unique is the ability to allow students considered in the “academic-middle” the same opportunity that students in the top percentile of their class receive with traditional post secondary enrollment options (PSEO), Noble said.

The class was designed specifically for that purpose, he said, adding that a further goal is to encourage more diverse students to explore and consider a career in education to fulfill a statewide need.

“We want to try and create a stronger diverse teaching pool, and we know that our diversity within our student body is a perfect example,” he said. “We can use our students that are interested in becoming educators to create a clear pathway for them to become educators, because the hope is we’ll be hiring some of them back within four to five years and we can give them a chance to be working within the community.”

Noble said he believes the district’s best chance at obtaining a more diverse teaching staff in the future is if it takes a proactive approach in helping interested students jumpstart their degree.

“I don’t think we’ll be very successful in increasing our diverse teacher pool unless we grow our own,” he said. “I think we need to find a way to get our own students interested in a career in education. They will know what it takes to engage the diverse learners, because they were one four to five years ago.”

The potential to create a more diverse teacher pool is exciting, and organizers are thrilled to finally launch the class this spring after the two education organizations — according to Westra — have discussed it for quite some time. The opportunity to implement the class came in early November, when Minnesota West and District 518 received notification they had received a $43,000 grant from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. The grant, “Creating a Teacher Pipeline — Offering Intro to Education Courses,” is to be used specifically for the development of a new course or expansion of a curriculum, Westra said.

The grant dollars, which will be used during the first quarter of what organizers are considering the pilot course, will be utilized for instructor preparation times, textbooks and transportation costs. The grant will allow students to earn college credit upon successful completion at no cost, Westra said.

On top of the MOHE “start-up” grant, further funds have been secured through the Minnesota Department of Education to allow the course to be sustainable — not only at District 518, but hopefully expanded to other school districts across Minnesota West’s service area, Westra said.

She’s hopeful the course offering will be expanded next year into three smaller school districts, where it would likely be taught as an online cohort.

The MDE grant amount had not been officially announced by press time.   

With the initial startup intact, the college and school district are already looking further ahead. Pending a successful pilot quarter this spring, the next step is to hopefully develop a career pathway so high school students can begin working toward an associates degree, Westra said.  

A partnership between Minnesota West and a four-year college is also being discussed, District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said during the school board’s instructional committee meeting earlier this week.

Further grant funds would likely be available, Landgaard said, which would allow staff from the four-year institution to travel to a Minnesota West location to help students achieve a four-year bachelor’s degree and teaching certification.