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West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch Meets Aspiring Teachers at Wheeling Park High School

photo by: Photo by Joselyn King

West Virginia Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch, left, speaks with Wheeling Park High School students Savannah Turner-Davis,Jaleah Creighton and Jerm'aniq Edmonds Thursday at the school. Burch was at WPHS to speak to students in the Beyond Education future teacher program and inspire them to become involved in the state's similar Grow Your Own program, which seeks to fund education opportunities for aspiring educators.

WHEELING – West Virginia is in dire need of more trained teachers, both for now and in the future, according to State School Superintendent Clayton Burch.

Burch was at Wheeling Park High School on Thursday morning to discuss the state’s new “Grow Your Own” program to mentor and financially assist high school students wishing to have education careers. Later in the day, he made stops in the Northern Panhandle at John Marshall and Tyler Consolidated high schools.

Burch was joined at WPHS by Carla Warren, Special Assistant to the state schools superintendent, and McNinch Elementary School teacher Heather Haught, the 2021 West Virginia Milken Award winner to discuss the need for teachers in the state.

Burch said there are 650 public schools in West Virginia attended by about 250,000 students. The school employs about 23,000 teachers.

“That sounds like a lot of teachers … but here’s the problem. Across the state we have 1,200 vacancies right now,” he said. “There are 1,200 classrooms that do not have a certified teacher.

photo by: Photo by Joselyn King

Wheeling Park High School students participateing in the school's Beyond Education program for future teachers listen to information about the state's similar Grow Your Own program, which seeks to fund education opportunities for aspiring educators.

“We have a county in southern West Virginia that has not had a certified math teacher at their high school for 10 years…. How do we expect them to do well?”

The need for teachers has doubled over the past six years, and “it’s going to get tougher,” according to Burch.

“Out of 250,000 children in public schools in West Virginia, 10,000 are in foster care,” he said. “Another 10,000 are identified as homeless.

“That’s 20,000 kids who are either in foster care or homeless in West Virginia schools in the past year. That’s sad. It’s kind of rough.”

West Virginia has the most students in its classrooms who have seen issues with opioid abuse in their home, he continued.

photo by: Photo by Joselyn King

West Virginia Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch listens to discussion during a stop at Wheeling Park High School Thursday. Burch was at WPHS to speak to students in the Beyond Education future teacher program and inspire them to become involved in the state's similar Grow Your Own program, which seeks to fund education opportunities for future teachers.

Burch said the state needs teachers who are not just smart, but who are also “caring, kind and compassionate adults.”

Warren explained the Grow Your Own program allows students to begin pursuing a teaching degree their junior year of high school. Participating counties work with higher education institution partners to develop pathways that include college-level courses and unique practical classroom experiences, and Wheeling Park HIgh School is partnering with West Liberty University.

The high school dual-credit classes come at no cost to students. Costs associated with the PRAXIS class also are covered.

The goal of the program is for high school students to earn up to 30 college credits before they graduate high school, and then start college as a sophomore majoring in education. After the student has achieved 60 college credits, they are eligible to begin substitute teaching as their college schedule allows and be paid for their efforts.

While teachers in West Virginia presently are required to student teach prior to graduation, they are not paid for their time student teaching. Student teachers will receive pay for their teaching through the “Grow Your Own” program.

photo by: Photo by Joselyn King

Wheeling Park High School Principal Meredith Dailer, left, Ohio County Schools Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones, and West Virginia Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch listen to discussion about the state's Grow Your Own program to inspire students to become teachers.

By the time of their third year of college – or senior year – they will be placed in a classroom as a primary teacher under the guidance of a supervisor. After the student graduates with a degree in education, they will be given hiring preference for teaching positions within participating school districts. Details about whether Grow Your Own graduates will be required to stay and teach in West Virginia schools are still being finalized, according to Ohio County Schools Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones.

Ohio County is one of 28 counties participating in the Grow Your Own pilot program, which begins with the start of the 2022-23 school year. WPHS already has its own Beyond Education class that seeks to inspire students to careers in education, with its focus being on minority students.

Burch, Warren and Haught that most teachers are in the classroom because “they have a calling.”

Warren said she particularly enjoyed the first grade students she taught.

“You could wear the same dress everyday, and they would still say, ‘You look so pretty,'” she said. “They really feed your ego in first grade.”

photo by: Photo by Joselyn King

McNinch Elementary School teacher Heather Haught, a 2021 West Virginia Milken Award winner, tells students at Wheeling Park High School why she enjoys teaching.

Haught said she has been a teacher for 12 years.

“In first grade, (students) make you feel like a superstar every day,” she continued. “If you see them in Walmart or Kroger, and you are a celebrity. It is just amazing.”

Teachers also get the pleasure of seeing their students grow throughout the year, Haught explained.

“They come in as babies,” she said. “A lot of them will tell you they don’t know how to read. I tell them that’s OK That is what we (teachers) are here for.

“I get to watch them learn to read throughout the year, and that’s an amazing thing to see,” Haught said.

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