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Like Tomatoes, The Very Best Teachers May Be Homegrown
Catawba Wants Recruits Who Grew Up In Area

JIM WRINN - Staff Writer

A program to recruit homegrown teachers for Alexander County Schools may spread into Catawba County. The Homegrown Teaching Scholars Program starts searching for more Alexander County students this week and could be operating in Catawba County as early as this fall, said Claudia Ward-Eller, director of the program at Catawba Valley Community College. She has already met with the three public school systems to gauge their interest. "We hope to do this by next year," Ward-Eller said. "But we're going to see what we can get in place by the fall." The aim, Ward-Eller said, is to create a new generation of teachers from people who grew up in the community. Details about how the program would work in Catawba aren't known, but the Alexander program works like this:

  • To qualify, students must be residents or former residents of Alexander County, U.S. citizens and legal residents of North Carolina. They also must have high school diplomas or GEDs and unweighted grade point averages of 3.0.
  • A limited number of scholarships are available for students in the program. Three of this year's 11 students in the program are on partial scholarships.
  • Students get help finding financial assistance for school, participate in enrichment activities and work with mentors over four years.
  • Students complete their freshman and sophomore years at Catawba Valley Community College and then take junior and senior level classes at one of five schools: Appalachian State, Lenoir-Rhyne, Gardner-Webb, Winston-Salem State or Western Carolina.
  • Participants agree to teach in Alexander County Schools at least four of seven years after graduating.

The program is recruiting for 12 new spots in next year's Alexander class with an informational session Tuesday.

The Alexander school system loses about 60 teachers a year due to retirement and relocation, said Barry Redmond, associate superintendent. Each year, three or four teacher contracts are not renewed because of poor job performance. In the coming school year, the school system expects to hire about 45 teachers, Redmond said.

The first year's class has a mix of students just out of high school and others who are coming back to finish their degrees in teaching. A survey of 2003 Alexander County graduates showed that 52 percent chose a community college, and many of those will attend CVCC, Ward-Eller said. The program has made a big difference for many of the nontraditional students.

Pneumatic tool service technician Mark Ford said the $400 scholarship he got through the program helped him pay for school without sacrificing income for his wife and children ages 10 and 13. "I love kids, I have two children, and I've coached every type of ball there is," he said. "At the pace I'm at now, I'll graduate in 2007; I'm doing it slow so I can spend time with my family."

Tonia Hertzler, a teacher's assistant at Bethlehem Elementary School and the mother of children ages 8 and 12, said the program has given her the opportunity she's dreamed of for many years. "I always wanted to be the teacher," she said. "I have a twin sister, and I've been married for 17 years," Hertzler said. "My sister went to college. I got married and later quit work to spend time with my children when they were young. When they went to school, I became a volunteer, then a part-time worker." She has been a full-time teacher's assistant for six years. In her current role, she works with eight teachers in fourth and fifth grades. "Being a wife and mother, I try to take courses as close to home as I can," she said. She got a scholarship through the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, and is a sophomore. She's eager to graduate from Appalachian State University. "It's time to be the teacher," she said.

Want to know more?
Information sessions on CVCC's Homegrown Teaching Scholars Program are 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the CVCC Alexander Center, located near Wal-Mart in Taylorsville. The application deadline is March 1, and there is no cost to apply. Applications can be picked up at the CVCC Alexander Center or the Alexander County Schools Central Office.  

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