TNCC, ODU, Hampton City Schools Collaboration Puts Aspiring Teachers on the Path to Their Careers


Published: October 2, 2008

Nearly 30 local residents who aspire to teaching careers began the first leg of their journey this fall when Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC), Hampton City Schools (HCS) and Old Dominion University (ODU) launched an initiative to address a shortage of elementary and special education teachers. Called First Steps, the program gives full time HCS employees an opportunity to earn the training and academic credentials necessary to become teachers.

The HCS paraprofessionals began evening classes in August at the College’s Hampton campus on the road to associate’s degrees in social science with specialization in education. They were selected for First Steps based on successful completion of a 500-word essay, two letters of recommendation, and meeting TNCC enrollment requirements.  The diverse group of aspiring teachers  –  two administrative assistants, 24 teacher assistants  and one school bus driver  –   will complete their TNCC degrees in a series of tailored eight-week sessions totaling four courses each semester, said  Dr. Joan Hecht, lecturer and director of cooperative teacher education programs for TNCC/ODU.

Upon earning degrees from TNCC in a minimum year and a half,  the students will transfer to ODU and work towards bachelor’s degrees attending all of their classes at ODU’s Peninsula Higher Education Center on Butler Farm Road. “The beauty of this unique program is that it facilitates seamless transition, is available at a convenient location and has a flexible schedule that enables students to work while earning academic credentials and training to pursue their dreams,” said Dr. Hecht.

She explained that the program was initiated by HCS’s Coordinator of Professional Development Joan Davis over the summer through talks with TNCC officials.  While visiting the campus during an Aug. 20 First Steps orientation Davis noted that HCS Superintendent Patrick Russo sparked her to collaborate with TNCC and ODU on this creative venture.  The school system has dedicated $82,000 of its organizational development budget this year to employees’ tuition and a portion of that amount covers the full tuitions of those in First Steps.  Davis views  this a very worthy investment.

“We have some outstanding paraprofessionals working in Hampton schools who are very dedicated. They know Hampton; they know our schools; they are familiar with our children and they have the desire to teach.  We felt it was time to give back to our employees and we believe they are going to be extraordinary teachers,” said Davis.

In line with the terms of the program, successful graduates must commit to teach for at least three years in Hampton. Roughly 200 new teachers are needed each year in Hampton while the Commonwealth has about 10,000 openings for teachers annually, according to HCS reports.

Although First Steps is unique to Hampton, it’s a prototype that organizers hope will filter to other school systems in the TNCC service area, said Hecht. The program is also in accord with what the Commonwealth terms “growing your own” and as First Steps evolves the goal is to open the program to others.

“We’ve been looking for a project like this for a long time. Now that it in place we want other schools systems to look at this model and duplicate it so that we’re truly reaching out to individuals working in our communities who desire teaching careers but aren’t certain how to proceed. In return they give back to our children once they become qualified classroom teachers,” she added.

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