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Education

A USF program seeks to ease the area's teaching shortage

students sitting in a classroom
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The program aims to help future educators fall in love with teaching young adolescents.

The Helios STEM middle school residency program at the University of South Florida aims to help fill local middle school science, technology, engineering and math teaching vacancies.

Like much of the country, Hillsborough County is struggling to fill its teaching vacancies. As of December, the district had 288 openings in its middle schools.

One local program seeks to help alleviate the teacher shortage–by filling science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) vacancies in the Tampa Bay Area.

The Helios STEM middle school residency program at the University of South Florida launched its first cohort in fall 2013, said Cheryl Ellerbrock, an associate professor at USF and co-coordinator of the program with associate professor Eugenia Vomvoridi-Ivanovic. The university received more than $3 million in grant funding from the Helios Education Fund for the program.

The students undergo two internships, and one year-long teaching residency at the program's partner Hillsborough County Public schools as part of their training.

"There's something magical to this formula of training teachers in a clinical setting...That structure tends to produce someone who looks at the teaching profession as just that, a profession. One that's worthy of being willing to commit to and stay in"

In sum, the students complete more than 1,200 hours of training across three different grade levels in three different middle schools. Ellerbrock said the students graduate teaching at the level of a second or third-year teacher.

"They are team leaders,” she said. “They are running STEM programs. They are taking on these teacher leadership roles as first, second, third-year teachers. That's rather unheard of–let alone their teacher scores that they receive are all in top scores."

The program aims to help future educators fall in love with teaching young adolescents, Ellerbrock added. As part of their training, the students take a STEM integration course that "helps prepare them for seeing STEM in a more wholistic and integrated way, especially how to engage young adolescents in the engineering design cycle."

Last fall, all 21 of the program's students were given pre-contract binders that set students up for jobs after graduation.

So far, the district has hired 100 percent of the program's graduates that have applied for teaching slots, Ellerbrock said. By May of this year, nearly 100 students will have graduated from the program.

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