Chelsie McClellan's first-grade students are sitting crisscross applesauce on the carpet waiting to see what books will be read to them.But it isn't McClellan who is poised on a stool with two books …
Chelsie McClellan's first-grade students are sitting crisscross applesauce on the carpet waiting to see what books will be read to them.
But it isn't McClellan who is poised on a stool with two books in hand at Foley Elementary School. It is Baldwin County Teacher Cadet Academy student Angela Ramirez.
Ramirez, a junior at Foley High School, is one of 24 high school students in Baldwin County who are taking part in the inaugural year of the Baldwin County Teacher Cadet Academy. The program is designed to give students who are interested in pursuing education a glimpse into the career before they head off to college.
Twice a week, Ramirez and her fellow cadets spend two hours in a classroom with a mentor teacher. The 24 cadets have spread around to nine elementary schools and one middle school throughout the district. While getting hands on experience, they are also earning nine dual enrollment credits through Coastal Community College each school year. The courses will transfer to the University of West Alabama's education program and program instructor, Becky Tomaso, is working to add more universities.
The cadets entered the classrooms in October after spending the first quarter of the school year learning the basics. During their first quarter in the field (classroom), Tomaso said the cadets are assisting the teachers in any way needed from making copies and decorating bulletin boards to assisting with small groups.
Tomaso, who has been a teacher for 28 years, also spent some time as an adjunct professor at the University of South Alabama (USA). During her time at USA, she was a student teaching supervisor and would go into classrooms to observe students in their last year of college. She saw many students have a change of heart about teaching and she hopes the Teacher Cadet Academy help prevent that.
"I had students at the end of the year say they didn't want to be a teacher now. That is a lot of wasted time and money. This program (BC Teacher Cadet Academy) they are in the field at least four hours a week right now and by the end of their program they will easily have over 400 hours of time in a school setting," Tomaso said.
The program was designed for students like Ramirez who were tossing around the idea of pursuing teaching and a few other careers.
"In high school, for me at least, I was very back and forth on becoming a nurse or lawyer and then I saw this program and I decided to try it and see what happens. It is eye opening because of the field experience. You see what is going on instead of just sitting there studying. It is a good opportunity to see if teaching is for you because college isn't the most budget friendly," Ramirez said.
After just a few months in the field, Ramirez said this is the career for her.
"It is something I want to do now that I have been able to go into the classroom. Mrs. Tomaso is a great teacher and has taught us so many things. Obviously, it is not going to be the easiest thing ever, but it is OK. I feel like this is my purpose to be a teacher and help kids learn," Ramirez said.
The Baldwin County Teacher Cadet Academy is currently accepting applications for next school year, and Tomaso hopes to see the program double.
Interested students must submit an application with recommendations and go through an interview. They must also meet several criteria.
"With the program, and what makes it more unique is they are getting college credit through Coastal Alabama Community College so they will be dual enrolled. There are requirements with Baldwin County," Tomaso said.
The ideal candidate has good attendance, good discipline because there are a lot of self-directed assignments, a 3.0 GPA and is trustworthy. The acceptance requirements are tough for good reason.
"There is so much at stake. They are getting all these college classes and I can't put them out in the field knowing there may be a discipline problem or a trust problem," said Tomaso.
Tomaso's Teacher Cadets will roll out a service project called Books for Babies.
"Part of being a Career and Technical Education program we must belong to a Career Tech Service Organization. We belong to FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America). The students had to come up with a service project for the year," Tomaso said.
The students have been collecting children's book donations, and they are recording themselves reading the book and making a QR code for the book.
"Inside the book, it will have some developmental milestones for students and welcoming them to Baldwin County and telling them a little about who we are and the QR code. We will wrap them all up and put them into the hospitals and shelters and some of the doctor's offices to give to young toddlers and newborn babies in Baldwin County. We are rolling it out Jan. 1, 2023," said Tomaso.
Some of the books will even be bilingual thanks to the English second language cadets.
"The students are so excited about this project, and I am super excited about the opportunity that we will be out in the community handing out these books and giving them to children," Tomaso said. "It is important that parents know that you have to read at an early age to children regardless. Having that QR code is a fun way for us to be a part of that process. There might be parents that can't read or want to listen to the book as well. The kids have done a great job and have made the sound effects and everything."
If you would like to learn more about the Baldwin County Teacher Cadet Academy, visit bcbe.org.
If you would like to donate books to the Books for Babies program, visit the Baldwin County Teacher Cadet Academy Facebook page or email Becky Tomaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.