Cumberland County Schools is making a concerted effort to solve its teacher shortage.
The district is awarding scholarships to high school seniors pursuing careers in education, and the investment appears to be paying off.
Sydni Underwood is only in her first year of teaching the second grade at Lucile Souders Elementary School, but she looks like she's been doing it for decades. Underwood says it's thanks in part to the CCS Future Educators Program.
"I was able to go to different schools, tour, and I just fell more and more in love with it. I got to see Kindergarten all the way to 12th grade. I got to see Spanish immersion. And that just really fostered that love," Underwood said.
Underwood was part of the inaugural class four years ago. Students in Future Educators receive professional development, a $1,000 stipend and an early employment contract. Officials at CCS say they've had to get proactive about getting teachers like underwood in the classroom. The district's teacher vacancy rate was about 1.2% before the pandemic; now it's more than 4%.
"One thing that we found is that we have a lot of student talent that we were not tapping," said Ruben Reyes, the associate superintendent of Human Resources at Cumberland County Schools. "What we really wanted to do is to provide them with an opportunity to learn more about the district."
Organizers encourage high school seniors to talk to their counselors if they're interested in the program.
"Go for it. I mean, it won't hurt. It's extra exposure. If it ends up not being for you, you still have references," Underwood said.
The county says it's accepting applications until April 7.
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