ST. GEORGE – State and local education officials have grappled with a looming teacher shortage for some time.
About 40% of Utah teachers leave the profession after just five years, and projections indicate that state-trained teachers could represent less than half of the teaching workforce by 2030, according to a Hanover Research 2019 Study.
Since the study ended, the situation has only worsened as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress on teachers while straining the resources of school districts.
To anticipate a future labor shortage, the Washington County School District joins districts across the state in the new Teacher and Trustee Pipeline Program, with first semester of grant recipients starting or continuing their training just a few weeks ago.
âIt’s going to help us have teachers here in our community – people we know and love who can grow up to be the teachers we need,â said Helene Morse, District Grants Program Manager. “According to statistics, we are going to face a teacher shortage in the next eight years if it continues like this.”
Morse said the district is currently working with 10 paraprofessionals working in local schools and 10 school counselors in training.
Washington County was able to secure a significant portion of the $ 9.2 million allocated by the state legislature, paraprofessionals seeking certification in teaching, and students enrolled in academic counseling programs that can receive up to to $ 12,000 or $ 14,000 per year, respectively. These funds are allocated only to pay for education expenses, but can be used for everything from tuition and books to exam fees.
Miriah Wixom is currently a student in the Academic Guidance Program at the University of Utah, taking classes with other local students at a graduate center in St. George. She said she heard about the grant program through her mother, a fellow educator working at St. George Academy.
âI originally took out student loans, but now I don’t have to take any more,â Wixom said. âAnd I can pay off my other student loans faster because I’m not paying for my education out of pocket. I think this will help a lot in dealing with the teacher shortage and education shortages in general, and will help attract more people into education to help future generations. “
As part of the second year of her masters program, Miriah worked with the district to land an internship as a school counselor for Water Canyon Elementary. She is able to observe other counselors full time while taking her classes and gaining real world experience.
âI hope to stay in Washington County with the school district and continue to be a counselor at the elementary level,â Wixom said. âFew places have a school counselor in every elementary school, but here in Washington County we do and it’s great. I think this grant will continue to allow places in Utah to get the counselors we need.. “
The grants program was promulgated by Governor Spencer Cox on March 17. Sponsored by Representative Jefferson Moss and Senator Ann Millner of the State Legislature, HB 381 established the grant program as a three-year pilot project to see if it would be successful in attracting and retaining trained teachers and counselors in Utah.
âI have a theater degree and I didn’t like that lifestyle, so I started working as a paraprofessional,â said Bailee Barnes, paraprofessional at Legacy Elementary School. âWorking as a para (professional) made me realize how much I want to teach, but if I didn’t get this scholarship my school load would be so big that it would probably take me years to graduate. “
In his day-to-day work, Barnes helps lead small reading groups, oversees a take-out library, and helps during recess. She said she was grateful to the district and the state for the opportunity to obtain her teaching certificate faster and more cheaply.
According to a statement shared by the Washington County School District, the teacher and trustee pipeline program is particularly useful in southern Utah, where the cost of living is rising and the population is growing rapidly. have contributed to a difficult labor market.
Part of the statement reads as follows:
The increased growth of the student body … is forcing WCSD to build more schools. Now more than ever, we need even more teachers to staff them. The sad reality is that paraprofessionals are not high paying positions and the cost of continuing education is high. The availability of financial aid will allow those most interested to complete their studies in the fields of guidance and education.
With the fastest growing population in the United States and the highest birth rate, Utah will likely see a growing need for well-trained educators as enrollment increases in the years to come.
The teacher and school counselor pipeline program has only just begun, but administrators and future educators in southern Utah hope the initiative will be successful and benefit everyone involved for years to come. .
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