BRISTOL – When the covid-19 pandemic hit, William Tucker was worried about how he was going to be able to get classroom experience.
The 26-year-old from Waterbury is studying history and elementary education at Central Connecticut State University and when he found out about the NextGen Educators program he was immediately interested.
“Opportunities come out of nowhere when you’re least expecting them. So as soon as I saw this opportunity I knew I had to jump on it,” he said.
NextGen Educators is a partnership between the Connecticut State Department of Education and Central Connecticut State University that puts college students in public schools to help ease the state’s teacher shortage during the coronavirus pandemic and increase diversity in the classroom.
The pilot program launched in Bristol in mid-November, placing 18 education students in the city’s elementary schools to work as apprentice teachers through the rest of the 2020-21 school year. The students are paid at substitute teacher rates, but because it is viewed as a “clinical placement” program, they don't have to be certified as teachers to participate, state officials said.
Tucker said it only took only about a month from signing up for him to start working three days a week with kindergarten teacher Colleen Kelly at Stafford Elementary School before Thanksgiving.
He said he was in the classroom for about a week and a half before everything went remote for two weeks due to rising covid-19 cases locally. Bristol students are back in the classroom now.
“I was in the classroom helping the teacher out and learning things from her, but when things went online I would still go online with the kids during their scheduled times and help with certain things like reading groups,” he said.
Tucker said he didn’t find the remote learning phase difficult.
“It’s actually pretty easy,” he said. “All the kids in the class are really well behaved, and they’re really bright kids so there are no issues. They all come online when they’re supposed to and do what they’re supposed to. They enjoy their teacher and they enjoy coming to class even when they’re online.”
After the pandemic is over and he completes his degree, Tucker is very interested in working in the Bristol schools.
“That’s the good thing about this too. I’m establishing connections with the schools. I even got to speak in front of the state Board of Ed. With all these experiences it’s a lot of opportunity coming from this,” he said.
Chrystal Gordon is equally enthusiastic. Born in Jamaica, she moved to the U.S. at the age of 11. She is 23 now, lives in Hartford, and is studying elementary education with a focus in math at CCSU.
“I heard about this program from my advisor,” Gordon said. “She said it’s not mandatory but she would strongly recommend it because we don’t have any experience right now working in the classroom. Due to covid they stopped our field experience. So I quickly jumped on it.”
She is working with Rebecca Adinolfi, a fourth grade teacher at Stafford. She goes to the school three days a week, and kept up with the class during the remote learning phase.
“I’m really excited about it,” Gordon said. “My mentor is teaching me a lot, not just the curriculum, she’s also teaching me how to do data tracking, how she works on report cards, how she grades assignments and stuff like that. The week before Thanksgiving, I started getting to know the kids. It’s been really smooth because they are easy to talk with. During recess I spend time getting to know them individually. We ask questions and it’s going good, and during independent study if I’m helping them understand a problem I also make a connection with them.”
She would also like to get a job in Bristol after she graduates.
“I love the school, the community; it’s so family oriented. It feels homey there. I did a tour when I went there the first day and they were super welcoming,” she said.
“I just cannot say enough about our partnership with Central,” Adinolfi said, when addressing the Board of Education at its December meeting. “It has really been a very positive experience for myself to guide and share my knowledge and experience with her, a positive experience for her getting to see all the ins and outs that our profession entails and such a wonderful opportunity for my students.”
The students immediately connected with Gordon, Adinolfi said. “On days where she’s not able to join us because she’s continuing her studies, they always ask about her. They want to know how she is doing and she’s really been able to use her own personal life experiences in the classroom as well. So overall it’s really truly been a very positive experience so far and I look forward to continuing the year with this partnership.”
At the same meeting, Samuel Galloway, the school district’s talent management director, called the partnership “a win-win.” It also helps support the district’s goal of recruiting qualified and diverse staff, he added.
In addition to giving aspiring educators a head start on their careers and schools some staffing flexibility while they deal with covid-19 outbreaks, state officials said the program is intended to give schoolchildren of color role models who look like them and increase the number of educators of color in the state by about 1,000. That would be an increase from 8.3% in 2015-16 to 10% by next year.
“When CCSU and the State Department of Education approached us with this program, we knew immediately that it was something we wanted to pilot in our schools,” said Superintendent Catherine Carbone, in a statement released by Gov. Ned Lamont’s office. “Not only are NextGen Educators providing immediate support to our teachers and students, but this partnership will be an additional path to establish relationships with pre-service teachers and allow us to quickly fill needed teaching positions with candidates that know our expectations and embrace our community.”
Zulma Toro, CCSU president said that the college is excited to partner with the state Department of Education on this initiative.
“CCSU has a long, successful history in preparing educators for Connecticut’s communities since our founding more than 170 years ago. The NextGen Educators program ensures we are responsive to the needs of individual school districts and the state while our own students are provided with experiences that will guide them to becoming effective, successful teachers,” said Toro.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or email@example.com.