As the national teacher shortage lingers, a suburban school district hopes to tackle the problem in a unique way.
The "Educator Prep" program in District 214, covering schools in several Chicago suburbs including Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Elk Grove and more, gives students seeking a career in education, hands on experiences and dual college credits.
"I stepped into college prepared because I had these opportunities," said Rebekah Burkhardt.
Burkhardt is a former program participant and recent college graduate. She's now a family and consumer sciences teacher in her home district at Rolling Meadows High School.
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"I felt like I was majoring in education in high school," said Burkhardt. "It’s an awesome program because it gives students time to try these careers out, and have all these experiences without paying thousands of dollars for college credit."
As part of the program, students can earn up to 16 college credits from Eastern Illinois University and National Louis University. Students who go on to become Ed Prep Scholars at either of these institutions are guaranteed student teaching placements and employment interviews with D214 or one of its nine partner elementary schools, according to the district.
"It’s a really good opportunity to figure out 'is this what I like? Is it not?' And when you go to college you can have a better understanding," said current Rolling Meadows senior Nicol Barragan Romero.
There are 833 students in the educator prep program in D214, and 83 seniors are currently taking college level coursework in education.
The students are preparing to enter a field facing a growing shortage. According to the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents, 90% of schools across the state are experiencing staffing shortages.
D214 hopes this program incentivizes future educators to return to teach their district and beyond.
"It could really, really help out many people," said Burkhardt. "Exposing them that education is something you can get your foot in the door in high school and giving them that real life experience."