Alana Walker was determined to have a career in dentistry. Instead, she stands in front of an eighth-grade classroom.
Walker, a 23-year-old graduate from Jacksonville University with a degree in science and sociology, recently applied to the Jacksonville Teacher Residency Program and is exactly the type of applicant the program is looking to attract.
The residency program is the first of its kind in Florida to focus on recruiting recent graduates not originally pursuing careers in education but rather careers in math and science. Nikolai Vitti, superintendent for Duval County Public Schools, said it is an alternative solution to teacher shortages in Duval County for the two subjects.
The deadline to apply is April 16. Duval County Public Schools, the University of North Florida and the Jacksonville Public Education Fund support the initiative.
The participating schools are Northwestern Middle School, Matthew W. Gilbert Middle School, William M. Raines High School, Jean Ribault High School and Andrew Jackson High School.
Larry Daniel, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at UNF, explained the program offers a fully paid master’s degree in education in exchange for a three-year commitment to teaching in Duval County Public Schools.
“I won’t have the funds to be able to go back to school, which is a priority of mine, and the fact that they will reimburse you for your tuition really stuck out to me,” Walker said.
Walker is now a teacher-in-training at Northwestern Middle School in Duval County.
“Once we got all the particulars worked out, we immediately started recruiting, and so our goal is to get this group in within the next few weeks,” Daniel said.
Daniel said he would ideally like to attract a national audience, but in its first year, the program is primarily focused on statewide outreach.
He said UNF is currently in the final stages of building the curriculum.
Christine White, the program’s director for Duval County Public Schools, said a group of about 20 to 30 students will start taking classes in the late summer. In the fall, they will each begin a year-long mentorship with an experienced science or math teacher at one of the five partnered schools while working towards their masters.
The program is “virtually a paid internship,” White said. In addition to paying for their education, the program offers a $20,000-stipend to each individual to cover living expenses in the first year.
Daniel said tuition and stipends were made possible by a monetary gift from a pool of private local donors in Jacksonville, known as the Quality Education for All Fund, which falls under the Jacksonville Public Education Fund. However, the amount given has yet to be finalized.
At the end of the program, students will have the courses needed to complete their teacher certification in Florida.
Daniel said Nikolai Vitti agreed those who complete the program would be considered for permanent employment at the end of the three-year teaching commitment.
For recent graduates who have explored their options and are now considering a career in education, Daniel said, “We want to tell them it’s not too late.”