Growing your own at Western: Bolstering the education workforce

Contact: Nicole Leffler and Chris Hybels

A teacher working with kids at a table on letters.GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Kristi VanderWoude is working to transform her West Kelloggsville Elementary classroom in Grand Rapids, Michigan, into a space where multilingual learners, who make up a third of her students, thrive.

Kristi VanderWoude

“The best thing about what we’re learning is that we don’t want kids to replace their original language. We want them to be multilingual and use both languages.” says VanderWoude, a kindergarten teacher.

Through the new Future Proud Michigan Educator Grow Your Own (GYO) grant, she is pursuing a masters degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages at Western to help her make those accommodations.

Announced in May, the GYO program supports 80 districts in Michigan by providing school employees a tuition-free education to earn their initial certification or additional endorsements. As part of the program, districts receive grants of up to $19 million 
to support their teacher education candidates.

The College of Education and Human Development is proud to be the host institution for more than 25 school districts, regional service agencies and multi-district consortiums participating in the GYO and other statewide initiatives to address the national teacher shortage. The University has partnerships in place with more than 20% of the first-round GYO district recipients, including small and large school districts from around the state: Ann Arbor Public Schools, Kelloggsville Public Schools, Parchment Public Schools, Van Buren Intermediate School District and West Ottawa Public Schools. 

“Michigan clearly understands the need to fund districts and hire more educators during a national shortage. We are grateful that agencies across the state have entrusted us to educate these candidates. This speaks to the community’s trust in WMU’s College of Education and Human Development, and we are excited to work with this next generation of educators,” says Dr. Laura Dinehart, dean of the College of Education and Human Development.

The impact of these partnerships is significant for enrollment. Western added more than 400 teacher education candidates as part of these initiatives, increasing teacher education enrollment by 35% in the first year alone. 

The bachelor’s and master’s programs offered in elementary and early childhood education, English as a second language, adapted physical education, special education, reading specialist and workforce education and development are unique in that they are developed specifically for contemporary learners and adults who have changed careers. The college is getting creative with programming 
to enable these non-traditional students to fast-track their degree. For example, the elementary education and early childhood unified education bachelor’s degree programs are expedited for GYO participants, making WMU the only three-year, expedited initial certification program of this kind in the state.

As Dinehart says, “partnership and collaboration are critical to the future of education. When educational agencies—higher education and K-12—work together for a better future, students, families and communities win.”

A few months into the academic year, Western’s education is already making an impact in GYO districts like VanderWoude’s.

“After the first week of classes, I was already talking to my professor about applying the lessons in my classroom,” she says. “When you have that many children who are multilingual learners and you just learn finally what to do with them, you’re excited to be able to go into the classroom and apply it.” ■