(Update: Adding video, comments from teachers, director of the program)
REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- George Fox University is helping Central Oregon schools address a teacher shortage, while helping those interested realize their desire to become a teacher.
The school offers an accelerated education degree. There are one-on-one meetings once a week when students need support, plus an evening class once a week and one Saturday class a month virtually. The program is designed to put new teachers in the classroom in 16 to 20 months.
Claudia Hernandez enrolled in the George Fox Elementary Education accelerated degree program in 2017. She is a fifth-grade dual-language teacher at Redmond's Hugh Hartman Elementary School.
"I think I was pursuing the medical field and it wasn't successful," Hernandez said Thursday. "I shifted careers and decided to pursue education."
She now works in Redmond where there's an emphasis on getting bilingual teachers into the classroom.
Katy Turpen, director of the George Fox Elementary Completion Degree Program, explained how much it costs.
"It costs about $35,000 overall for the entire program," she said. "They they walk out with a bachelor's degree, a teaching license and a multiple-subject endorsement."
The George Fox program is tailored to people already living in Central Oregon. They attend most classes online.
"This program was developed to meet the needs of people that are working," Turpen said. "Often, they're in a career already, and they just want to switch, or they're the bread-winner for their family."
Kayla Kneeland is a special education teacher at the Warm Springs K-8 Academy.
"I had two babies through this program and still was able to graduate on time and meet all the requirements of the program," she said. "It's just it's an amazing program, unlike any other."
Of the 40 teachers on staff at Warm Springs K-8, 14 are George Fox graduates with teaching licenses.
"The requirements were once a week in person, and then like one Saturday a month -- and then all other classes were accessible online," Kneeland said said. "So just with that right there made it a really supportive program. The instructors and all of my coaches within the program -- they were amazing."
Some of the George Fox graduates are ready to pursue more education, realizing their time in the classroom is making a difference.
Hernandez said, "I want to pursue more. I kind of want to go back to school, and my dream is to be a principal one day. But in the aspects of getting into the field, I feel like that goal is complete."
George Fox partners with the school districts to pair student teachers with paid positions.
The Central Oregon program has been so successful, the university is considering expanding it to help other districts deal with teacher shortages.
Here's some more information provided by the university:
Unique Program at George Fox University Helping Rural Oregon Meet Teacher Shortage
Schools in rural Oregon have long been challenged to find and keep qualified teachers. Teacher recruitment is difficult because potential teachers who live in rural areas have struggled with the accessibility, cost, and time it would take to complete a teacher licensing program. Many don’t have the ability to leave their jobs and communities to pursue the education required to help fill the current need.
George Fox University’s elementary education degree completion program has led the way in helping prepare teachers to meet the needs of our rural school districts.
For more than seven years, George Fox has partnered with a handful of school districts to find ways to combat the teacher shortage. Together, they have designed an accelerated program that allows students to earn their bachelor’s or master’s degree online with a teaching license in 16 or 20 months. On top of that, they have partnered with school districts to pair student teachers with paid positions, allowing them to work in their community while earning their degree.
More than ⅓ of teachers at Warm Springs Reservation school are George Fox graduates
One partnership that has led to the hiring of more than a dozen teachers is the one between George Fox and Warm Springs K-8 Academy. The school is on the Warm Springs Reservation in Jefferson County. Out of the 40 teachers on staff, 14 of them are George Fox graduates with teaching licenses.
That number includes Kayla Kneeland, a special education teacher. The program has made it possible for Kneeland, who was born and raised on the reservation, to teach in the community she loves.
“Being able to relate to students and their community and culture is huge. It helps instill confidence,” says Kneeland.
Roughly 40 miles south of Warm Springs is Hugh Hartman Elementary School in Redmond. Administrators there have launched a dual-language program and have identified bilingual speakers in their community who want to become teachers. Many are working adults, single parents, and first generation high school graduates.
George Fox is working closely with the school district to provide the support needed for those individuals to get through the licensing program and get lined up with a teaching job.
George Fox continues to build relationships with school districts across the state to see what their needs are and find ways to fill them.
One desperate need is for teachers in secondary education. George Fox has a proposal under review to expand the program to include licensing for middle school and high school teachers. The idea is to bring a college education to the person who dreams of becoming a teacher and making an impact in their home communities where they are needed most.