WORTHINGTON — With more grant funding secured and another school year just around the corner, Worthington education institutions will continue their journey to train and retain more teachers of color to better reflect the community's student population.

A year and a half since launching the teacher pipeline project at Worthington High School, the first round of classes are ready to be offered at Minnesota West Community and Technical College campuses this school year.

“It’s been a ton of work up to this point — getting everything in place and all the parties going — so it’s really exciting now to have classes ready to go and people who are interested,” Minnesota West Dean of Institutional Effectiveness Kayla Westra said.

While the 2019-2020 school year officially begins Monday at Minnesota West, the introduction to education and introduction to child growth and development courses will not begin until Sept. 4. The decision to align the course start date with area school districts was made so that it better matched paraprofessionals and high school students’ schedules. After all, creating a schedule conducive to its target students is important, which is also why the courses are offered from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

“We know that with the block schedule (at the high school) it is tough for them to fit things in, so this would give them another avenue to take it,” said Westra, adding that registrations are still being accepted.

Two new courses — Introduction to Special Education and Human Relations — will be added at Minnesota West during the spring semester. Technology in the classroom will also be offered next semester. The classes are available on all Minnesota West campuses via ITV.

While the education classes are beginning this fall at the college, introductory classes are still being offered directly at the WHS campus through certified Minnesota West instructors.

Twenty-eight students are currently enrolled in the high school’s offering of Introduction to Education. Technology in Education has 25 students enrolled.

According to WHS Principal Josh Noble, student participation in the course offerings has increased since its inception in January 2018, when it had about a dozen students. A Future Teachers of America club has also started within the last year.

The continued course offerings are made possible in large part to a $600,000, two-year grant from the McKnight Foundation, which the program received late last spring.

The funds will help aid students interested in becoming a teacher earn their degree without ever leaving Worthington. Program leaders hope eliminating that barrier will increase the diversity of its teaching pool, which currently represents only about 4% of District 518 teachers.

Even increased to 7% diverse with paraprofessionals, there’s still a big gap between the diversity of the teaching pool and the student population. Approximately 75% at both Prairie Elementary and Worthington Middle School and 68% at the high school are students of color.

While a program goal is to increase the diversity of Worthington’s teachers, program leaders also hope it has a positive impact on the region.

Theresa Ireland, Minnesota West K-12 collaboration coordinator, said more diverse populations are spreading across the region, which is evident from her experience on Jackson’s Minnesota West campus.

“Even though Worthington is one of the most diverse communities in Minnesota, as we see that branching out in the region, it’s important we have teachers that reflect our student population,” she said.

Westra said fall 2020 is when the first upper-level education courses will begin being offered in Worthington through Southwest Minnesota State University. The first cohort of students to successfully graduate from the pathway program will likely be in spring 2022.

The unique partnership is also garnering attention from other school districts.

Since the pathway program began in Worthington, the Redwood Valley, Red Rock Central, Wabasso and Springfield school districts have begun their own collaboration to offer introduction to education.