Esme wants “to give something back to my community, and what better way to do it than by educating the leaders of tomorrow.”
Lisset loves “working and interacting with children. I have always looked up to my teachers as role models, and wanted to be just like them. I want to provide students with quality education.”
Berenice hopes “to change a child’s life around, like my fourth-grade teacher did with me.”
All three, natives of Elgin who are recent associate degree recipients, are part of the NIU College of Education’s first cohort of Elementary Education majors who will complete their B.S.Ed. degrees at Elgin Community College through a new 2+2 program.
ECC President David Sam also participated in the event, which included picture-taking with a life-size photo of Victor E. Huskie and NIU-branded sunglasses.
What the launch truly means to both institutions, however, is a timely culmination of years of cooperation to design the program, sign the agreement and recruit the students.
“Illinois, like most other states, has been experiencing a teacher shortage,” Elish-Piper says.
“One of the things that delivering our Elementary Education 2+2 program at Elgin Community College allows us to do is to take our program to students who would otherwise not be able to come to NIU. It’s making our program more accessible,” she adds. “It’s very exciting to work with a community like Elgin to cultivate and grow its own teachers, who we hope will be hired and working in the schools in the area.”
She enjoyed meeting Esme, Lisset, Berenice and the 12 others enrolled in the inaugural cohort.
“They are a highly motivated, enthusiastic group, who I am confident will not only do well in our program but will go on to be great teachers,” she says. “It was really rewarding to be able to take our program to them.”
For the new Huskies, the chance to stay at home – whether it’s their actual place of residence, the familiar ECC campus or their alma mater School District U-46 – provides a strong sense of comfort and community along with the benefits of a large university.
“Most of our students are single and/or working mothers who could not have come to our campus, so they were just so thrilled and excited to be working with NIU and getting their degrees from NIU,” Blake says. “They’re just a critical mass of positive energy, and it was very invigorating to go out there and meet them.”
“The on-site delivery model is so well received by these students because many of the challenges associated with continuing their education to pursue teacher licensure have been removed,” adds Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation for the NIU College of Education and acting director of Student Services.
NIU professors are traveling to Elgin to teach courses from the professional semesters and supervise the licensure candidates in their field experiences in U-46. Others are delivering the curriculum in a hybrid format.
Scheduling of the courses and clinicals also respects that the ECC cohort members all are employed at part-time jobs on top of their school and family responsibilities, Blake says.
“We’re dealing with a different population of students. We have a more diverse group. We have a group of parents who are working,” she says. “Dean Elish-Piper is right: This is the future of our programs – not just ours, but all of education – where we become more flexible and willing to work offsite.”
Doing so offers mutual benefits, she says.
“These communities want to groom and keep these people in their school districts, and they want the same quality of work that we are producing on our campus with our candidates,” Blake says. “We have 40 people wanting to join the cohort next fall, and people from other community colleges are calling Elgin wanting to join the cohort. I anticipate this becoming very popular.”
Berenice and her classmates would agree.
“I am excited about this program because I get to be around my family that I love,” she says. “I have been a U-46 student my whole life and I would love to give back to U-46. I look forward to learning how to help struggling students.”
“This program allows me to stay home and have field experiences in the same school district I grew up in,” Alicia says. “This program is the best fit for me because I’ve always wanted to be a Huskie, being able to keep a small classroom and utilize ECC and NIU resources.”
“Besides being a student, I am a mom as well,” Lisset says, “so this program has made my life easier to be able to attend school while having my son attend daycare on ECC’s campus.”
Such enthusiasm is contagious, Johnson says.
“I am excited about this program because the students are excited,” she says. “It is inspiring to see their motivation to make a difference in the schools and community where they live and have families.”