University of South Carolina

College of Education's Diverse Pathways builds strong teachers, schools

Grace Farnum is the poster child--well, make that teacher--for a federally funded project to develop a pool of K-12 educators for 12 of South Carolina's underserved schools.

"I understand this population; I wanted to teach these students."

And judging by the results at her new school--a 30-percent increase in standardized science achievement scores--the five-year-old program is working.

Diverse Pathways
Farnum grew up just southeast of Columbia in Calhoun County, one of three counties participating in Diverse Pathways. The joint initiative between the University of South Carolina's College of Education, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, and Midlands Technical College also helps the schools:

  • strengthen their curricula
  • recruit and retain teachers
  • develop strong connections with University education professor

'I can do it, too'
Farnum was one of Diverse Pathway's first graduates, taking advantage of its bridge program to attend one of the technical schools for two years before transferring to South Carolina to finish her education degree.

"I understand this population; I wanted to teach these students," says Farnum, in her second year teaching third grade at Guinyard Elementary School in Calhoun County.

She's also welcomed other O-C Tech education students to her classroom. "They see me and say to themselves, 'She did it--I can do it, too.' "

In fact, when Diverse Pathways started in 2004, O-C Tech didn't have any students who wanted to be K-12 teachers; now there are 60.
Recruiting pays off
"Filling teaching positions in rural schools is tough because of the culture shock factor," says Jane Zenger, one of two College of Education professors who founded the program. "Teachers recruited from other parts of the country or even from nearby cities often won't stick around."

But when they do, the results are often amazing, as Zenger and her colleague Stephen Thompson found out when they asked principals and teachers in each school to identify academic areas in need of support.

Guinyard Elementary chose science education as its priority.

No catch, just results

"(Zenger) told us we could get materials for a science lab, get professional development for our teachers, and it wouldn't cost us anything," says Betsy Elliot, Guinyard's curriculum coordinator. "I asked her, ‘What's the catch?'"

There wasn't one. Guinyard's students loved the new science lab, and several teachers enrolled in professional development courses at South Carolina. The College of Education sent a Ph.D. candidate to help Guinyard refine its science curriculum.
Guinyard students saw their standardized science scores zoom, and their parents showed up in droves to see the school's first-ever science fair projects lining the halls.

Teachers stay, students succeed
Zenger credits the program's grassroots approach.

"This isn't a top-down thing where we come in and tell the schools what they need and then leave. The teachers are telling us what their students need, we help provide it, and that creates an environment where teachers old and new want to stay.

"More importantly, it lays a foundation for student success."

Posted: 04/01/09 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 12/01/09 @ 12:03 PM | Permalink