Program allowing people to earn teaching credentials in Worthington gains steam with a $624,375 grant

The “Grow Your Own” pathway offers multiple opportunities for multiple groups of prospective teachers.

Education and reading concept - group of colorful books on the wooden table in the classroom, blackboard background
Education and reading concept - group of colorful books on the wooden table
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WORTHINGTON — A unique partnership between southwest Minnesota schools is seeking to address the shortage of teachers by allowing people to earn teaching credentials without ever having to leave Worthington — and the program just got a $624,375 grant to help, too.

District 518, Minnesota West Community & Technical College and Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall have been working together for more than 10 years to reduce the barriers prospective teachers face, and the new “Grow Your Own” pathway helps Worthington-area candidates get into teacher education licensure programs in elementary education and English as a second language, with a possible K-12 reading licensure minor.

“If you’re thinking ‘I think I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t finish… I don’t know if I can afford it,’ all of those ‘I wonders’? …we can help financially,” said Christine Quisley, assistant professor of education at SMSU.

District 518 recognized that there was a need for more teachers, particularly teachers of color who could better reflect the diversity of their students, and began collaborating with Minnesota West and SMSU.

At the time, the nearest teacher preparation programs were more than 60 miles away.


The Minnesota State system had already made a system-wide push for pathways that would allow students to easily transfer their work at two-year schools to a four-year program elsewhere, said Rhonda Bonnstetter, a former director of professional educator services at SMSU who currently teaches math at Worthington High School.

Minnesota West developed a two-year elementary education Associate of Science degree and put it in place.

For its part, SMSU sought and received approval for a non-conventional elementary education program that used Minnesota West’s foundational coursework but then provided the rest of the coursework — through SMSU — on the Minnesota West campus in Worthington

In order to provide opportunities for high school students, District 518 worked with Minnesota West to develop concurrent courses taught at WHS so that those students could consider teaching as a future profession. Plus, District 518 started a Future Teachers of America Club.

The Southwest Minnesota Teacher Preparation Partnership has also included members from District 518 Community Education, the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, District 518 Adult Basic Education, and the Southwest Initiative Foundation. The McKnight Foundation has provided additional financial support.

The “Grow Your Own” pathway offers multiple opportunities for multiple groups of prospective teachers.

  • Program candidates earning their elementary education associate’s degree at Minnesota West can remain in Worthington to both complete a teaching degree through SMSU and complete their required field experiences.
  • Paraprofessionals working for District 518 can take their foundational education courses at Minnesota West and transfer to SMSU, but remain in Worthington while they finish their teaching degrees. A grant award can provide stipends for these students while they finish their required student teaching hours, which are unpaid.
  • Tier 2 teachers and community members who already have bachelor’s degrees but are seeking teacher licensure can take education foundation courses at Minnesota West and apply for admission to SMSU. Then they can stay in Worthington to complete the required classes and complete their required field experience.
  • District 518 students can take concurrent enrollment education classes and participate in the Future Teachers of America Club, and then enroll at Minnesota West to finish their associate degrees.

“Candidates who for whatever reason can’t travel to Marshall, but want to get teaching degrees in elementary education or English as a second language, we can serve them while they’re still working,” Quisley said, noting the classes are offered in the evening.
Thanks to the grant money, students who are working at District 518 as paraprofessionals can receive compensation for lost wages during their student teaching time, as well as getting funds for any gaps between financial aid and tuition costs. Plus, “Grow Your Own” is a small program, meaning it can be tailored to the needs of those participating to some extent, Bonnstetter added.

“It takes a long time for people to understand that they can do the entire degree here in Worthington,” said Kayla Westra, dean of liberal arts and K-12 partnerships at Minnesota West, praising SMSU for its willingness to allow Quisley to teach on the Minnesota West campus. “It really has taken the collaboration of all three partners to get this running as well as it has.”


Candidates who successfully complete the program automatically get to interview for an open position at District 518, if one is available, Bonnstetter said. Should District 518 hire the candidate, they’ll be supported then too, thanks to the district’s mentoring and teacher support systems.

“It’s been so much fun working with all these students who are just excited to be teachers,” Westra said.

Quisley encouraged anyone interested in the program should contact her as soon as possible at with a subject line of “Interested in becoming a teacher.” She said she’d be happy to meet with any candidate.


A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

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