As a teacher cadet, Potomac Falls High School junior Lexi Swinimer can become a student teacher of sorts without stepping foot in a college classroom.
The Teacher Cadet Program, a year-long honors course, will introduce Swiminer and other students to the teaching profession through classroom work and real-life teaching experiences.
"It will give me a lot of resources to use," Swinimer said. "I've always wanted to be a teacher ... I like presenting new ideas and getting kids excited about having fun in the classroom."
Swinimer and another 20 students attended a Jan. 24 information session on the new course, which will be offered at the school and at Park View High School in fall 2002. Students accepted into the course will get a taste of teaching through classroom observations, field experiences and interacting with administrators and teachers from schools in the Potomac Falls cluster, a designation of schools based on geographic area.
"This is going to be good for the students," said Susan Corwine, a family and consumer sciences teacher who, with Karen Curtis, helped implement the program. "They're going to be on the other side. They're going to be a student and a teacher, too. They'll see what other teachers do."
THE STUDENT CADETS WILL observe teachers and students interacting in the classroom, the students' different learning styles, and the teaching methods and materials teachers use. They will be assigned to a certain grade level or subject area for field experiences in the core subjects, art, foreign language, career and technical education, special education and other subjects. The field experiences will include peer tutoring, serving as a teacher assistant, planning and teaching lessons to a group of students and serving as a laboratory assistant. The students will learn how to prepare their own lesson plans.
"The ability to support them while they are in high school will give them a running start," said Sharon Ackerman, assistant superintendent for instruction. "This enables them to have a good first year of college and to have a deeper understanding of what it [teaching] is."
The students will be required to study all aspects of the educational process through the program, Curtis said. They will learn about the role and responsibilities of the superintendent, the school board, school principals, instructional staff and guidance counselors, among other personnel at the schools.
"It's exciting to be able to take your owner profession and try to get someone else interested," said Susan Corwine, family and consumer sciences teacher at Potomac Falls High School.
CORWINE AND CURTIS got the idea for the program after attending a two-day conference at the South Carolina Teacher Recruitment Center in October. The program was initiated in South Carolina in 1985 and since then has been expanded to schools in 16 other states.
"A lot of school systems are looking at growing their own teachers," Ackerman said, adding that the program is an "opportunity for us to identify our best and brightest."
"The whole community benefits when our young people come back to the community they grew up in to teach. They have a better perspective," said school board member John Andrews (Broad Run). "It gives them the benefit of seeing if it is something [for which] they truly have a passion."
Potomac Falls High School currently offers a semester-long child development class requiring students to prepare lessons for and teach preschool students. "This experience will be much deeper," Ackerman said.
The Teacher Cadet Program is scheduled to open at Potomac Falls High School with 30 students, or 15 students per class. If the program generates enough interest, it will be offered at other high schools in the district through the Office of Career and Technical Education.