Polk County Public Schools celebrated the first participants in our ELITE teacher education program with a pair of ceremonial signing events on Thursday.
“We believe in you and we are super excited that you want to go through the classes and become a teacher,” said Tami Dawson, regional assistant superintendent of high schools, during her remarks to the students at Haines City and Ridge Community high schools.
“We are extremely proud of you. We can’t wait to see the first group of students graduate and get into our classrooms.”
ELITE (Establishing Leaders in Teacher Education) creates a faster way for Polk County students to enter a teaching career. PCPS developed ELITE in partnership with Polk State College as a local answer to a pervasive teacher shortage that is affecting school districts nationwide.
Announced in August 2018, the program now has about two-dozen students signed up to participate when classes get underway at three schools at the start of the 2019-20 school year (ELITE is also being offered at Bartow High).
ELITE will allow students to work toward earning an associate degree from Polk State by the end of their fourth year of high school. Then, they will work toward successfully completing two years at Polk State to earn their bachelor’s degree in elementary education or early childhood education. With their bachelor’s degree, ELITE participants will be eligible for employment as teachers with PCPS.
Polk State will offer ELITE classes at the high schools. The classes students take while still in high school will be offered through dual-enrollment, so there will be no charge to students’ families. Polk State is the county’s least expensive higher education option, making ELITE an affordable pathway even after the students matriculate to college.
“We’re used to seeing athletes at a signing day,” said Stephen Hull, Polk State’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, during Thursday’s events.
“What you’re doing is more important. As teachers, you will be changing the lives of thousands and thousands of students. Our commitment is to get you out of this program with no student debt.”
Students said they are excited about the chance to earn free college credits while still in high school, and to get an early start on a meaningful career path.
“Teaching is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Marisol Ramirez, a Haines City High student who is interested in teaching kindergarten. “(ELITE) will help me get through school faster and cheaper.”
Added Summer Mayes, a student at Ridge Community High:
“I feel special that I get the chance to help myself and my parents by earning college credits for free.”