Talk about a win/win.
While many schools are struggling with a severe shortage of substitutes, SUNY Brockport’s Teacher Immersion Fellowship program is filling that void in 19 area school districts — and giving aspiring teachers a head start into the profession.
It’s an innovative program that got a lot of buzz at one of NYSUT’s “Take a Look at Teaching” summits being held around the state to brainstorm solutions to the state’s looming teacher shortage and encourage a more diverse educator workforce.
“The school districts love this because it gives them a steady supply of excellent substitute teachers and can actually save money,” said SUNY Brockport’s Dawn Jones. “The (college student) fellows love it because they’re paid $100 a day and it gives them tremendous classroom experience, all sorts of professional development, plus a foot in the door for future employment.”
The program began in 2016 with seven SUNY Brockport student “fellows” scheduled one to five days a week as full-time substitutes at Hilton School District. In just a short time, with state funding provided through Monroe 2 BOCES, the program has grown this year to six college partners, 19 participating local school districts and 100 student fellows.
“It’s an amazing experience,” said Abigail St. Denis, a SUNY Brockport student who substitutes Wednesdays and Fridays at Brockport’s Gintler Elementary School and schedules college classes the other days of the week. “It’s definitely giving me a lot more field experience long before I do my student teaching,” she said. “And most importantly, it’s helped me see that teaching is something I really want to do.”
For Christyn Bork, now a second grade teacher at Hilton’s Northwood Elementary School, the immersion program was a perfect fit — and helped her land her first teaching job.
(Above: Christyn Bork, a Hilton Central Schools Teachers Association member, says SUNY Brockport's Teacher Immersion Fellowship program gave her lots of hands-on experience and helped her land her first teaching job. Here she's working on a weather unit with sixth-graders.)
She entered the immersion program as a graduate student and was thrilled to be placed at Northwood after doing her undergraduate student teaching. “I signed up for five full days a week and took my grad classes at night,” she said. “I literally worked in every K–6 grade, every classroom.”
The few times when there was no substitute opening in the building, she went wherever she was needed — even covering for school secretaries, school monitors, or helping out with security at field days.
“I can’t tell you how much it made me part of the school community, ” she said. “I grew so much as a teacher myself and I sincerely doubt I would have gotten my first job in a district like Hilton if it weren’t for this program. You become a known entity.”
In addition to the classroom experience, fellows attend after-school professional development offered by BOCES, plus district activities.
As the program has grown increasingly popular and competitive, it now includes a “match day” similar to what med school residents experience. “Our students submit resumes and do interviews and the school districts are extremely eager to get a fellow,” Jones said.
Financially speaking, the program benefits both students and districts. Since the districts receive state aid through the Monroe 2 BOCES cost-sharing arrangement, districts can actually end up saving money rather than hiring substitutes directly with district funding. College students appreciate the $100-a-day and are able to quit unrelated part-time jobs in retail or food service.
While it’s impossible to specifically credit the popularity of the immersion program, Jones noted that enrollment is up this year in both the undergraduate and graduate teacher prep programs at Brockport. With more participants, the college is looking at rearranging class schedules to free up more fellows during the day. The college is also tracking whether participation encourages students to stay in the area after graduation.
“Upstate, there’s a lot of talk about the brain drain,” Jones said. “We’re hopeful this program — and exposure to different school districts — may convince more students to stay in the community.”
“This is a perfect example of what can happen when P–12 and higher education partner,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. “Having BOCES work as the cog in the wheel is an innovative way to get some state funding behind it.”