Program Sends College Students to Public Schools to Relieve COVID Absences

The program is being piloted in the Bristol Public Schools

Central Connecticut State University has agreed to send education majors to work in Connecticut’s K-12 public schools as a means of relieving pressure on districts experiencing COVID-related staffing shortages. 

The partnership between the state’s public university and its public schools has been facilitated by the Office of the Governor through a project called Next Generation Ed

The program is open to sophomores and juniors enrolled in the university’s early education program. Designed as a clinical placement, students will be assigned to their schools for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. They will be able to lead small group discussions, help with lesson plans and support students in other ways. 

“These students will be immersed in the school’s culture and the intensity that comes with the day-to-day challenges in the classroom that come with the situation we are facing,” said Dr. Zulma Toro, president of the university. “We are convinced this will help develop more successful teachers.” 

The program is being piloted in the Bristol Public Schools, which operate six K-5 schools and two K-8 schools. Eighteen sophomores and juniors at CCSU started orientation in the program last week. 

Students will be assigned to classrooms in pairs, with each student teaching 2-3 days. They will work with experienced teachers who will mentor them as they teach. Two organizations — Black Leaders and Administrators Consortium and Committed to Achieve Latino Advancement and Supports — are providing mentoring support.

In lieu of college credit, students will be paid as substitute teachers.  In Bristol, where the program is being piloted, substitutes are paid $90 per day, according to Bristol Schools Talent Management Assistant Amy Devine. 

According to the Office of the Governor, the program will  focus particularly on recruiting students from diverse backgrounds and students of color to teach in the classrooms. The state’s goal is to have men and women of color account for 10 percent of educators in Connecticut by 2021 — a goal which would require an additional 1,000 certified teachers of color by next year. 

“When our teaching profession can reflect the beautiful diversity of Connecticut, then we’ve done well,” said Department of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona.  

Since September, multiple school districts have been forced to transition one or more of their schools to remote learning after large numbers of staff were exposed to a positive COVID case and advised to quarantine. These include three schools in Middletown, two in West Haven and all of Shelton’s city schools.

Patrice McCarthy, deputy director at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said that potential holiday travel and the arrival of the flu and cold season were creating increased concerns about the ability to staff the schools. She said student teachers offered one way of filling in the gaps. 

Demand for student teachers has increased this year, according to the state Department of Education statistics. 

Through September 24, the department has issued 165 Durational Shortage Area Permits, which allow students studying education to teach temporarily in Connecticut public schools. The largest number of permits went to the Hartford and Bridgeport school districts. 

From June of 2019 to July of 2020, the Department of Education received 562 applications for DSAP permits. In the following three months — July through September of 2020 — the DOE received an additional 279 applications for DSAPs. That’s more than half the number it received in the entirety of the previous year. Compensation for these placements can range between $65 and $125 per day.

Officials at the university said they hoped to expand the program to a larger population of students, and Cardona said he expected other universities to join in down the road. 

The state is also piloting a program at the high school level, EdRising, which gives high schoolers a chance to better understand what it means to be a teacher, earn “micro-credentials” in topics that include classroom culture and learner engagement, and start to form a professional network.

Gov. Ned Lamont said he believed the NextGenerationEd program would go a long way to allowing schools to remain open for in-person learning.  

“I hope we take this to all our other CSU colleges and beyond,” he said. 

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