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Teaching: Lowering barriers, encouraging passion

West Michigan Teacher Collaborative gets strong response, large pool of applicants

Kent ISD — After a hiatus from working in education, Kyle Welter decided he wanted to return to the classroom. So last year, he accepted a position as a resource room teacher at Kentwood’s Discovery Elementary.

Kyle Welter, resource room teacher at Kentwood’s Discovery Elementary, said the West Michigan Teacher Collaborative’s Endorsements & Advanced degrees program is helping him earn a certification in learning disabilities

Welter already has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in education administration, but being in the resource room, he could see the benefit to having a certification in learning disabilities. He found a program to help him in his own backyard: the West Michigan Teacher Collaborative

“It really gives me the ability to get the certification without affecting my family’s budget to do so,” Welter said. “It is great to be able to get that advanced degree and have somebody willing to work with you and support you.”

The West Michigan Teacher Collaborative is a partnership between Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon ISDs and Grand Valley State University. It is funded by a $19 million Future Proud Michigan Educator Grow Your Own Programs for School Staff Grant. 

Launched last fall, the collaborative offers three programs: a Pre-Residency, for those who have a few college credits and are looking to earn a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification; a Residency, for those with any bachelor’s degree who want to become a teacher; and Endorsements & Advanced Degrees, for teachers looking for an advanced degree or certification in specific fields such as special education. 

The Pre-Residency and Endorsements & Advanced Degrees program started in January, and the Residency program is set to start in the spring. All tuition, fees and supplies are covered for those accepted.

Showing their support ar administrative leaders from the three partnering counties of Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa (Edith Reyes)

There were more than 660 applicants for all three programs, with each receiving more than 200 apiece, said Laura Castle, Kent ISD director of development. The Pre-Residency accepted 48 candidates and the Advanced Endorsements and graduate degrees accepted 20.

Passionate About Teaching

Terra Ross, a parapro in Mona Shores, said when she heard about the West Michigan Teacher Collaborative program, she knew she had to at least try to be a part of it

“When I heard about the program, it was one of those things where there are no regrets. I had to at least try,” said Terra Ross, who is part of the Pre-Residency program and currently a parapro at Campbell Elementary in Mona Shores. “It can be challenging balancing work, home, children and school, but WMTC has been supportive and encouraging, and I just feel like I am in the right place where I can have the most impact on our community.” 

The selection team is now interviewing about 80 candidates for the Residency program, which had the highest number of applicants. Castle said the program will accept between 40-50 candidates of the 263 who applied.  

“We are thrilled by the response,” Castle said, adding they had an excellent pool of candidates who were professional and prepared. “You hear the narrative that people don’t want to be teachers, but we see from this that there are people who are really passionate about serving their community this way.”

During the all-day interview process for the Pre-Residency and Residency programs, candidates were required to present a mini-lesson, work on a group problem and have a one-on-one interview with the selection team composed of school leaders and human resource officials, and community members from the three participating ISDs.

“We are lowering the barriers to becoming a teacher, but we are not lowering the standards to being an excellent teacher,” Castle said. 

Those applying to the Endorsements & Advanced Degrees program were interviewed by phone, as they already are certified teachers, Castle said. Those applicants were required to be working in a district and to provide recommendation letters from their administration. 

A Supportive Network

The interview process resulted in a diverse group of candidates, Castle said.

Preliminary demographic data showed that about 30% of those enrolled in the collaborative are people of color, which is a closer representation of the student body in the three counties. According to MI School Data, for the 2022-23 school year, about 44% of the Kent ISD student population are people of color; about 40% in Muskegon ISD; and about 27.5% for Ottawa ISD. For staff, the numbers are much lower for all three counties, with Kent ISD at about 14%, Muskegon ISD at about 15% and Ottawa ISD at about 6.6%.

Castle said preliminary data also showed that about 25% of the candidates are male, 20% are multilingual and 37% are first-generation college students.

Being part of the Hispanic community, Nate Garcia said he can be a voice in education to his community. Garcia is in the Pre-Residency program and is a teacher assistant at Ottawa Area ISD’s Sheldon Pines School, which provides special education programs.

Nate Garcia, teacher assistant at Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, shuffles through materials during a recent West Michigan Teacher Collaborative program (Edith Reyes)

“For me, being able to receive this education and earn a degree prepares me to be able to serve my city and my community,” said Garcia, who plans to continue working in special education. “This has been an amazing experience, being able to connect with others and share about students and what I am learning.”

Castle said the collaborative’s focus goes beyond the classroom, bringing the cohorts together for opportunities to share and for professional development. 

“I don’t feel like I am doing this alone,” said Veronica Salazar, an associate dean of students at Holland High School in the Pre-Residency program. “It works well with my schedule, and those leading and participating have been very supportive.”

Read more from Kent ISD: 
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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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