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College of Education

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Program aims to increase teacher diversity through scholarships and fellowship

Current Apple Core Initiative students talk about how it supports their long-term success

Research shows that if an African American child has just one minority teacher between third through fifth grade, his or her school dropout risk decreases by nearly 30 percent.

“What a huge — and positive — impact that is,” says Margo Jackson, director of the Apple Core Initiative program in the College of Education. “But in South Carolina, less than 20 percent of our teachers are minorities.”

That’s where the College of Education’s Apple Core Initiative program comes in. ACI is a program aimed at recruiting high school students from historically underrepresented populations of the state into teacher education programs at the University of South Carolina.

ACI students receive a $2,500 annual scholarship and $500 in travel support. They participate in regular workshops and community connection meetings aimed at easing their transition into college life, creating a sense of community, and helping them overcome any issues that may stand in the way of their success.

Former Gamecocks defensive line (2000-04) Preston Thorne now works for the College of Education, serving as a student success coach for the college, including students who are part of the Apple Core Initiative. Thorne visits schools to encourage students to pursue the teaching profession.

“Working with our ACI students, I’ve come to realize that academically, they are excelling. But many have a tough time transitioning to college life. I encourage our students to get involved on campus with something that interests them, which tends to lead to them meeting people who share those same interests and values,” Thorne says.

A primary component of the ACI is its culturally relevant instruction and STEM education curriculum. The program combines those with experiences that help students gain a greater appreciation for diversity, culture and education though study abroad, guest lectures and, most recently, a “study within” experience in Tucson, Arizona.

The ACI program began in 2018 and currently has 10 freshman and 10 sophomores enrolled. We talked to two of those students to get an insider’s perspective and find out more about that study within experience. Here is what they had to say.

Elizabeth Jordan is a freshman mathematics major with an education cognate and a minor in Spanish. She is on the five-year secondary education path, working toward a bachelor’s in mathematics and a master’s in teaching. The Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, native plans to teach middle school math.

Sophomore Cheyenne Jones is native of Florence, South Carolina, majoring in early childhood education. She plans to teach early elementary grades and eventually open an early childhood education center. Jones attended ACI’s study within trip for sophomores to Tucson, Arizona, in early March.

 

How did you find out about the Apple Core Initiative and what made you decide it was a good fit for you?

Elizabeth Jordan: I found out about the Apple Core Initiative program at an EdFriday event that the College of Education held in 2019. I knew it was a good fit for me because the program’s goal was to help aspiring educators, like me, become the best teachers that we can be for our future generations. And, as a first-generation college student, I did not know what to expect in college, and I loved the idea that ACI was a community that was willing to support me in this journey.

What inspired you to decide to go into teaching as a career?

Elizabeth Jordan: I have always loved serving others around me, and after volunteering at my church’s Sunday school classes for several years, I knew teaching was the career for me. Furthermore, I never had a Hispanic teacher, and I also want to be an inspiration for young students like me. I had a dream and was able to reach it, and they can too. The great teachers I had growing up inspired me to give back to my community in the same ways they helped me. They showed me that being a teacher is more than just teaching content but that it is also caring for each and every student that comes into the classroom, because they each have a story to tell. I love knowing that, as teachers, we have the opportunity to positively impact the young minds that come into our classrooms and support them in their dreams and goals.

How has the Apple Core Initiative helped you in your major?

Cheyenne Jones: Through the monthly workshops and professional development, ACI has expanded my knowledge of early childhood education. The ACI director, Margo Jackson, brought in the South Carolina 2019 STEM Educator of the Year, Warren Wise. He was very enlightening in that he spoke with us about implementing STEM projects into our classrooms. ACI has also proven to be a great support system. Once a month, Preston Thorne, our student success coach, has one-on-one sessions with us to check in and offer assistance. Even while we are out for COVID-19, he continues to have virtual sessions with each of us.

 

Elizabeth Jordan: The Apple Core Initiative has helped me develop as an individual and as a future professional teacher. I know that I have colleagues and mentors that are here to support me as I work toward my major and my goals. The impact that ACI has had on my life will carry on to my students, and I am so thankful for that.

Did you participate in the study within trip to Tucson? What did you learn on the trip?

Cheyenne Jones: Tucson was amazing. I am truly grateful for the opportunity that ACI gave for me to have the experience. It was fascinating to see how a place within the United States could be so different from where I am from. The population in Tucson is majority Hispanic and the culture there was so rich and prevalent.. As ACI students, our main goal is to gain an understanding of culturally relevant pedagogy. Immersing ourselves within a different culture helps us when we become teachers of diverse classrooms. We also visited the Worlds of Words: Center of Global Literacies and Literatures were we learned about global literature and how we can implement it within our classrooms. A lot of people feel disconnected with global literature because of the difference in cultures. In one of the workshops, we were taught how to pair a global book with an American book to show the similarities in themes. We also went to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Experiencing the desert firsthand makes for authentic lesson planning in our own classrooms. I was able to purchase a few children’s books about the desert, Native American and Mexican American culture to add to my classroom library.

 

What was your favorite part of the experience?

Cheyenne Jones: Our visit to Hollinger K-8 school was my favorite part of the trip. I am thankful to Dr. Lopez-Robertson for taking us to the school in which she once taught. The majority of the school’s population is Hispanic and one of the school’s missions is to preserve the Spanish culture and prepare children to be fluent in both Spanish and English. I observed a kindergarten class in which all lessons were taught in Spanish. This was cool for me because I took Spanish from middle school until my senior year in high school, so I was able to not only comprehend but I was able to respond to some of the questions that they asked me and even participate in some of the dialogue with the class.

What advice do you have for other students considering teaching as a career?

Cheyenne Jones: I would tell them to go for it. It is a truly rewarding career. I do feel that it is what I am called to do. I feel that you must have the passion and drive as you pursue your goal of becoming a teacher. The passion and drive must be there first and foremost.

Elizabeth Jordan: If you are passionate about education, pursue that path, and know that you are not alone. There is a big need for great educators in our state, and at the same time, there are so many great people in our communities willing to help us reach our dream. Remember that, as teachers, we will have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of young minds while at the same time learning a lot from them. Some people said that I should reconsider my choice because I was not going to make a lot of money. In those moments, I knew that perhaps I would not be financially rich as a teacher, but that I would be rich in my heart, which is far more important.


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