While there’s plenty of excitement as Lower Columbia College’s first class of bachelor’s degree holders nears gradation, it’s also a little sad for the close-knit class of future teachers.
“I’ve worked with kids for a long time, so when the program opened it was the most perfect opportunity,” soon-to-be graduate Addie Bailey said. “To be nearing the end is bittersweet.”
Graduating student Jacob Carroll said while he’s excited for the future, “it happened so fast. It went by in a flash,” and fellow student Maria Bueno said she was ready to move on, but loved her time in the program.
Bachelor of applied science in teacher education
The program started in 2019 with 24 students who were studying full time for a two-year bachelor of applied science degree after first completing a two-year associate’s degree program. Four left the group, and four others switched to a part-time group because of COVID-19 pressures, BAS-TE instructor, data administrator and certification officer Michaela Jackson said.
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Offering certification and non-certification paths to students, graduates have the option to work in any classroom from early learning and preschool through eighth grade.
Because the Southwest Washington region is facing a teacher shortage, the college chose the BAS-TE program as the first bachelor’s degree path to help address that crunch. Cowlitz County also has a bachelor’s degree attainment rate that is significantly lower than the state average, Jackson said.
“I think we’re nearing 17%, but the state is at nearly 40% so we’re really lagging behind,” she said. “LCC takes the commitment to the community seriously and our college administration is really excited to offer these opportunities.”
A Bachelor of Applied Science in Organizational Leadership and Technical Management degree recently was added by the college.
Program director Ann Williamson said the students already have helped local districts, filling in as emergency substitute teachers during the pandemic and doing everything from remote to in-person teaching.
“Now this is something they have experience in and will have on their resume that they have done virtual and hybrid instruction,” Williamson said. “That will be a plus.”
While the pandemic made learning a challenge for Bailey, “it really taught us a whole how flexible we can be, how smart we are and what we’re really capable of.”
She also had a son in July 2020, which “threw in a whole other level of get stuff done.”
“I had to figure out how to be a mom, a student teacher and get my school work done so it was crazy but fun,” she said.
Bueno gave birth to a daughter right after turning in her final exams and papers, and said trying to balance three jobs, school work and a pregnancy was “not something I recommend.”
“I call her my cohort baby because she attended all my classes with me,” she said.
Bueno said learning from home, without access to the library or a dedicated class time, was difficult.
“In the classroom, nobody comes in and says they need me, or asks to me to help cook or clean,” Bueno said. “I have a big family, so at home it’s hard to find a quiet place to focus.”
The cohort style, where the same students take all the same classes, gave them a place to find support, whether it was help with homework or encouragement in job applications, Bailey said.
Carroll said “the cohort really helped” because “nobody ever felt like they were alone.”
Not only will the program add to the local workforce, it also will help diversify it, Jackson said.
“If the only reason you’re not teaching is because you don’t have access to the degree, then we need to change the process,” Jackson said.
LCC is doing that by having a non-traditional program format, with part- and full-time cohort options, night classes and flexible scheduling. It is targeted toward students who might not be able to attend full-time school in the daytime or do a solid semester of student teaching.
Typically, students are expected to student teach full-time for one semester, which is impossible to do if they need to work to support a family or themselves.
The program also is heavy on real-life experience. Students spend time in classrooms the entire two years they’re in the program, which is not usual for teacher programs. Jackson said students will have just a little less than double the state’s required 450 hours of student teaching by the time they graduate.
“The amount of time our candidates have spent in the classroom is something that really is going to show,” Jackson said. “They were able to start in the fall with the same teacher and same students and worked with them the entire school year.”
Carroll said the experience showed him just how much work goes into teaching when there are no students in the room.
Hoping to stay local
All three soon-to-be graduates are applying for local jobs. Bueno has applied to jobs in different grade levels, but loves kindergarten to second grade the best. Bailey also hopes to teach K-2, because “those littles, they steal your heart.” Carroll is hoping for a middle school position.
While LCC’s overall graduation will be virtual, the small BAS-TE cohort will get an in-person event to recognize them for being the first to graduate from the new program. Carroll, Bueno and Bailey said they were excited to get that chance.
“I worked so hard in the program, I didn’t want it to just be that I closed my laptop on a Tuesday night and was done,” Carroll said. “I’m happy we’ll get to have a night to see each other before our new journeys.”
Future program growth
The program also will offer post-graduation support, because research shows most teachers are lost in the first three years because of struggles with classroom management.
“We intend to have at least quarterly after-hours gatherings to come together and say what are your struggles and bring the person with that expertise into that training time and provide additional training and services to the students,” Williamson said.
Jackson said the program has gotten plenty of tweaks since the start, and she and Williamson are in contact with local educators who help adjust curriculum and offer advice.
Starting orientation for the students has evolved, with more of a focus on familiarizing students with district and college policy, social emotional learning and foundational skills, Jackson said.
The first part-time cohort is finishing up their first year, and applications for cohort three just closed. Class size has been steadily growing, with 31 in the part-time cohort and 34 in the third cohort, Jackson said.
“What happens when you’re a new program is you don’t have a big pool who have completed all the degree requirements to apply, but by two years on people are like ‘oh, LCC has a degree I can get, ’ ” Jackson said.
Williamson is already working with students interested in being part of cohort six. She said the future is bright.
“We’re already seeing lives being transformed by having this ability to not only work a job that creates a living wage, but a job that also fulfills their joy and their passion,” she said. “When people flourish the community flourishes, and I think this is one of those steps that will help Cowlitz County transform and flourish.”