Twelve student teachers from Texas A&M received blue coats to symbolize the start of their journey as the first members of aggieTERM.
AggieTERM is a new program established between Texas A&M and the Bryan school district that gives A&M pre-service teachers a clinical residency, which means a full year of student teaching instead of the typical semester.
In addition to the full year of student teaching, the students also commit to working in Bryan schools for at least three years following their graduation from A&M.
The blue coats the student teachers received from their mentors are a symbol of the community the aggieTERM students are joining, said Valerie Hill-Jackson, director of educator preparation and school partnerships at Texas A&M.
“It says, ‘We’ve got your back,’ ” she said.
The program, Hill-Jackson said, is a way to retain teachers, noting research shows 30% of teachers leave the profession after three years and 50% leave after five years.
“What this opportunity represents is an opportunity for us to train teachers here in the Brazos Valley and for them to stay in the Brazos Valley,” she said. “That’s most important.”
The aggieTERM students will follow the Bryan school district calendar and begin professional development this summer before reporting for new teacher workshops on Aug. 1 with their mentor teachers.
“They’re seeing what it’s like to be an employee of Bryan ISD before they even start. I think it really prepares [them],” Jenny Ponzio, mentor teacher at Bonham Elementary School, said.
Pre-service teacher Kristen Carvalho said she is most excited about the experience because she wants to be as prepared as she can be before she has a classroom of her own.
With the residency experience, Ponzio said, the students are not meeting their students after they have established a routine.
“I’m excited for them to start the year and see them grow from beginning to end. … It’s kind of cool to see them grow with our kids,” she said.
The focus of the program is bilingual teachers, who are difficult to recruit, Bryan Community Outreach Officer Hugo Ibarra said.
AggieTERM Director Miranda Walichowski also noted during the ceremony the lack of bilingual teachers, saying only 4% of high school students aspire to become teachers and about half of those choose to go into bilingual education.
Each of the 12 aggieTERM student teachers will be placed in classrooms with mentor teachers at Fannin, Jones or Bonham elementary schools to work directly with their mentors and campus and district faculty and staff members.
By going into aggieTERM, A&M student Guadalupe Flores-Nolasco wrote, she will not only gain classroom experience, but also build her confidence as an educator.
“For my time at A&M, I know that experience is very important to my individual success. When I enter my own classroom, I will be better and ready to anticipate meeting first-year teacher hurdles I know I will experience,” she wrote.
AggieTERM member Corina Villareal wrote she wants to be the teacher who shows her students how valuable an education is to their future.
The mentoring aspect is what drew U.S. Army veteran Aaron Gneiding to teaching, he said, noting he mentored soldiers and now wants to help mentor students. When his wife, who is also a bilingual teacher, introduced him to the culture and the A&M program, he fell in love with it.
“It just seems like it’s such a great opportunity, just looking forward to get started,” he said.
Walichowski said during the ceremony she hopes the support built into the new clinical teaching model shows a difference in the student teachers’ experiences.
“For me on a personal level, what I would like to see is a great resilience and that ability to just be successful in your field, starting their first year,” she said.
As part of aggieTERM, the 12 students will receive a $15,000 stipend during the residency year, a laptop from the school district, mentoring from district and Texas A&M staff, opportunities for paid after-school tutoring, financial assistance for teacher certification exams, job placement in Bryan schools and student loan forgiveness after three years of teaching in Bryan schools.