Grant helps high-schoolers get jump-start as future teachers

Fostoria High School senior Aja Vilaiphone never entertained the idea of becoming a teacher … that is, until an awesome opportunity opened up for her at Heidelberg.
 
Aja is among a cohort of six high school seniors who are taking advantage of the School of Education’s new scholarship program, created through a state Diversifying Educator Pipeline grant. For the last two weeks in July, she was joined by Noah Augsburger and Alexia Coleman, also Fostoria High School students, and Hazel Stone of Wynford High School, Lily Jensen of Seneca East and Autumn-Belle Stephens of Tiffin Columbian to complete their first Heidelberg education class on campus.
 
“The opportunity was brought up by my teacher, and that put a light bulb over my head,” Aja said. “It opened up different perspectives to see that other people think I have potential.”
 
The $160,000 grant is designed to set students on the path to becoming teachers by providing financial aid and scholarships to cover the cost of their entire Heidelberg degree program. Ultimately, its goal will help increase the number of educators from diverse backgrounds.
 
The two-week intensive summer session, both this summer and next year, is the first step; the cohort also will complete one College Credit Plus course at Heidelberg and two more CCP education courses during the upcoming year. Some of the students already have completed CCP coursework at their high schools; for others, it’s new. In exchange for the scholarship, the students commit to teaching in Ohio for at least three years and complete their college education debt-free.
 
Unlike Aja, Lily, Noah and Alexis have always had their sights set on becoming teachers. For Lily, Heidelberg was on her radar. “I always wanted to go to Heidelberg and be an educator, so this was a really great opportunity,” she said.
 
For their first campus experience, the students spent more than 50 hours with Dr. Dawn Henry and Dr. Lindsey Haubert, who taught their Human Growth and Development course. According to their professors, the students were enthusiastic and engaging.
 
“They shared great insights during deep discussions and kept up with a significant amount of reading in a condensed time frame,” Dawn said. “We spent a good deal of time discussing our expectations and goals for the grant with them and they’re really committed to being great teachers who respect and meet the needs of all students.

Goal: Group bonding

The students enjoyed their first experience on campus. They entered as strangers but left as friends who support and lean on each other, and that was one of the key goals of the grant.
 
“It was nice to get an idea what college is going to be like,” said Lily. “Working in our small group, everyone got to get close. It was a fun experience to do with people who have the same interests. The people who are teaching us really care and are fun to be around.”
 
And they learned that when they arrive on campus, they won’t feel alone or overwhelmed.
 
Hazel added, “We’re like our own little support system, bouncing ideas off of each other. Our conversations made it really easy to understand the class.”
 
In addition to course content, the group learned what to expect from the college experience as a whole. A key lesson: Help is available if you ask. “The people at Heidelberg have shown they care for every single student and they make us feel good about ourselves.”

While on campus, the group toured the Owen Center for Teaching and Learning and met the staff who are there to support them academically. They also met with Cathy Belfiore, director of Financial Aid. Cathy will work directly with their families this fall.
 
Together the group got a taste of Tiffin, visiting various restaurants for lunch, and they also checked out Hoernemann Refectory. They also got the true Heidelberg experience by dining at Hoernemann Refectory. 
 
Throughout the two weeks, they read the book, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. This provided them context as they learned about the story of two Wes Moores through the lens of Human Growth and Development. “Their ability to connect this to theory went well beyond anything we could have imagined,” Lindsey said. “They learned so much content in such a short amount of time. Their future as teachers is exciting!” 

Ready to make a difference

There’s a common theme among the cohort members about why they want to teach: to impact lives in a positive way.
 
“I want to give kids an opportunity to have something I didn’t have and to teach to the way kids learn best,” Noah said.
 
Aja echoed similar sentiments, but took it a step further: “I want to provide what was missing in my childhood and education and that is that they can do anything.”
 
“I want to make sure students aren’t afraid of me because of how I look and make sure students who look like me feel comfortable,” she said.
 
Several of the students – including Autumn-Belle and Hazel – said they’ll work hard to make sure their students feel supported and safe, not just inside their classrooms but outside too.
 
If their summer on-campus experience is any indication, they’re already on track.
 
“Based on this summer’s experience, we’re very confident they’ll be ready to take on the challenge of undergraduate study,” Lindsey said. “They’ve already begun to build strong relationships within the group, which is a critical component of retention. They’ve successfully engaged in higher order thinking tasks and appear to be very motivated to do well.”
 
Dawn added, “We do wish more Black and/or Hispanic students had applied, but we’re very excited to see the impact the students in this current cohort will have in their future classrooms.”

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