HOLLAND – A partnership between Holland Public Schools and Hope College will help create a pathway for aspiring teachers to start their degrees in high school.
Hope and HPS are establishing a tuition-free Teacher Preparation Early College Program, the first of its kind in the region, according to HPS.
Students at Holland High can enroll in the Early College program to begin taking courses at Hope College in their junior year. This will allow them to complete the first two years of a bachelor’s degree in education at no cost by the time they complete the Early College program.
“The ability to offset college costs is a huge benefit of this and Early College in general,” HEC Director Andrea Mehall said. “But it’s more than that. It’s the ability to provide wraparound supports a high school can to make sure they are navigating the postsecondary world with success. ”
Mehall said discussions for the partnership began in early 2020, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a delay due to the pandemic, the program will kick off this fall.
Students selected to enroll will commit to a “13th year” at Holland High through the Holland Early College program. Students will begin taking classes at Hope’s campus their junior year and continue to do so during their senior and 13th years.
By the end of the extra year of high school, students will have completed two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree in education at Hope College.
“After that 13th year, they can seamlessly continue on to Hope College,” Mehall said.
The program will be limited to three students per year at the start. That number could increase in the future depending on demand, Mehall said.
“If we end up with a huge number of students interested, there is potential to scale this up over time,” she said.
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Students can apply at the end of their sophomore year. Applications will be “evaluated holistically” and HPS is “committed to diversifying” future teachers to be more representative of the student population.
“We are excited about this opportunity to proactively respond to the growing teacher shortage, while we encourage our own amazing students to become teachers,” stated HEC Counselor Dana Loveland.
The partnership with HPS is another in a series of initiatives by Hope College to increase students in its education department. After several down years, Hope graduated a large class of teachers this year, and has another sizable cohort coming in this fall.
Hope has taken steps to specifically market the education program to any potentially interested students. The college also altered its program to allow students to complete a teaching degree in four years, instead of the typical five.
The teacher shortage has been a topic of discussion in education for several years, and grew worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michigan schools collectively lost 721 teachers in the fall of 2020, according to a 2021 Michigan State University Education Policy Innovation Collaborative report, just after the COVID-19 pandemic began. The 0.9% drop in active teachers marked the third-largest decrease over the last decade.
Reasons behind teachers leaving the profession, according to nearly 2,600 educators surveyed by the Michigan Education Association, include compensation, workload and state regulations.
In the survey, 85% said increasing salary and benefits would increase retention of educators, while 73% said significant retention bonuses would help.
Another 64% favored replacing the state’s current educator evaluation system with one that is more effective and fair, with 61% saying that hiring more staff to reduce workloads would help with retention.
Local school districts are currently hiring for dozens of teaching jobs, along with positions like specialists and paraprofessionals, according to job postings.
As of June 21, West Ottawa had 13 open teaching positions, Holland and Black River had nine each and Zeeland and Hamilton both had six listed openings.