Van Buren hosts WMU to celebrate launch of Grow Your Own partnership

Contact: Chris Hybels

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—"I have two young kids, and I wouldn't be able to afford a master's degree with daycare costs but the Grow Your Own program will allow me to because it's all paid for," explained Torrey Wenger, a science teacher from Van Buren Intermediate School District (VBISD). With other teachers in the district, Wenger joined faculty and staff from Western Michigan University's College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) on June 28 to learn more about degree options and apply to the Grow Your Own program.

The Grow Your Own (GYO) program, a grant funded by the Michigan Department of Education, is an opportunity for school employees to seek additional certificates, endorsements and degrees at no cost to them. Additionally, district employees who attend WMU as a participant of GYO can fast track their bachelor's or master's degree in as quickly as three years. Graduates of the program will then be eligible for Michigan Teacher Certification.

"Van Buren Intermediate School District was incredibly prepared and had done a lot to recruit candidates to the program," says Dr. Kristal Ehrhardt, CEHD senior associate dean. "They've really been excellent partners, and we were able to come in and help people apply to Western and learn more information about the program." 

At the launch event, hosted by the VBISD, Western faculty and staff were invited to attend and answer questions while participants fill out their applications to the University. This group of future WMU students and current VBISD educators were given a unique opportunity to meet their instructors and get a jump start on preparation for the fall semester.    

"Our schools are really struggling just to staff their buildings," says Cheryl-Marie Manson, director of curriculum and instruction at VBISD. "There are classrooms that don't have positions filled and this shortage is like nothing that we have ever seen. So Grow Your Own gives the opportunity for people who are already employed the opportunity to get a teaching certificate for free at no cost. When Western came and talked to us about Grow Your Own, it was obvious to me that they understood the needs that were happening in the local districts and that they really, truly wanted to partner to find a solution."

According to Dr. Suzan Piazza, chair of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies, the partnership between the University and VBISD started last summer. Since then, Western designed an expedited bachelor's program for elementary education and early childhood unified education initial certifications. That program developed into the creation of multiple graduate programs that provide initial certification for educators going back to school or those who are entering into the field of education. In addition elementary education and early childhood unified education, Western's GYO offerings expand to programs such as school counseling and literacy studies.

WMU is proud to be partnering with many school districts within the state of Michigan for GYO programs. For updates and more information, visit the GYO at WMU website.   

about grow your own

The Michigan Department of Education Grow Your Own grant provides opportunities for school districts to increase the number of teachers in areas of shortage by supporting school employees seeking initial certification or additional endorsements. With funding appropriated by the state legislature, these grants will fully fund high-quality instruction in a specific set of programs at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. 

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.