MANHATTAN — Kansas State University’s College of Education is launching a program statewide that produced more than a 600% increase in the number of students pursuing education degrees at a community college in southwest Kansas.
The Kansas Statewide Teacher Education Pathway for Underserved and Place-bound students, or KSTEP-Up, is a site-based teacher pathway program. Faculty in the College of Education were awarded a $1.6 million Teacher Quality Partnership grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2018 to fund the program with partners Seward County Community College and Liberal USD 480.
KSTEP-Up begins with a teacher pathway program in high school and transitions to the local community college, where students earn an associate degree then move seamlessly into online education courses through K-State. The game-changing element of the program is a one-year residency in a school district that culminates in a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from K-State.
In 2018, the first year of the grant, 18 individuals — a mixture of paraprofessionals, high school students taking concurrent-credit courses, and community college education students — participated in the program. Today, 126 future teachers in Liberal are preparing to be elementary classroom teachers.
“The results of KSTEP-Up in Liberal have demonstrated the power of partnerships,” said Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education. “We are grateful to everyone involved, and we’re also excited about replicating this exceptionally successful and innovative ‘grow your own’ program in communities interested in addressing teacher supply.”
Darin Workman, instructor in the department of humanities and social sciences at Seward County Community College, explained that KSTEP-Up benefitted all students interested in becoming teachers.
“This has been a great program for our place-bound students,” Workman said. “We found out that this did not just help our traditional students, but it also helped our non-traditional students while they are working full-time jobs in the school system.”
Tonnie Martinez, assistant professor and coordinator of the office of innovation and collaboration, and Todd Goodson, professor and chair of the department of curriculum and instruction — both College of Education faculty members who grew up and taught in rural communities — served as co-principal investigators for the grant.
“It’s all about building relationships and ensuring a path for local future teachers,” Martinez said. “The students are always surprised that they can complete their bachelor’s degree online and complete their student teaching in local schools.”
Martinez said College of Education faculty and staff visited Liberal to share information about the program. Additionally, academic advisors in the college’s Center for Student Success and Professional Services provided one-on-one advising sessions for traditional and non-traditional students to address questions and hear more about the students’ dreams of becoming teachers.
Goodson said the grant provided an opportunity for a proof of concept, and now that the pilot project in Liberal is ending, other community colleges are eager to partner.
“We are working our way across the state to share the opportunities KSTEP-Up can provide for addressing teacher vacancies in local districts while growing student enrollment in community college education departments, Goodson said. “That’s a win for all of us.”
To explore becoming a KSTEP-Up partner, please contact Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org.