Back row from left, Mauldin High School teacher cadets Trey Cornish, Alicia Koch, Eric Washington, and Alexa Neglia. Front row from left, Anyel Pinto, Nikki Ghorbani, Dejona Coleman, Hailey Zentz, Chris Blount, and Madeline Johns. Photo by Ariel Gilreath.

Students in Greenville County Schools will now have the opportunity to receive a bachelor’s degree in education from Clemson University in just three years after they graduate.

The partnership, called “Expressway to Tiger Town,” starts with students taking dual enrollment classes in 10th grade, attending Greenville Technical College for one year after graduating high school, and attending Clemson for the remaining two years to receive one of the school’s seven bachelor’s degrees focused in education.

Once students complete their undergraduate program at Clemson, they have the option of staying an additional year to complete a master’s program. All students in the program will be able to complete their student-teaching residency in Greenville County Schools and will be guaranteed an interview. The program will be capped at 20 students next year, but Associate Superintendent for Academics Jeff McCoy said it could be expanded in subsequent years.

Greenville County Schools Superintendent Burke Royster said the partnership is intended to make a dent in the teacher shortage that plagues South Carolina and the nation, as well as make college more affordable for education students.

“We do not have enough teachers nationally. We do not have enough teachers in the state. We don’t have enough teachers every year to fill very easily the number of vacancies we have in Greenville County Schools,” Royster said. “This is a way to help prepare not only our students for college and a career, but specifically for a career in teaching.”

Keith Miller, president of Greenville Tech, said the teacher shortage affects not only K-12 schools, but also higher education institutions.

“This can serve as a model throughout the state for other universities and technical colleges,” Miller said. “We’re lucky that we live in a collaborative environment.”

Dejona Coleman, a senior at Mauldin High School, said her dual enrollment Education 111 course at the school helped shape her career decisions. Prior to that class, she had always wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Now, Coleman wants to teach math to middle school students.

Education 111 acts as a teacher residency class for high school students in Greenville County Schools — students get experience in various classrooms as assistants and also receive college credit for the course.

“I’m at Langston Charter Middle School right now, and it’s pulling my heartstrings,” Coleman said.

Like Coleman, many of the high school students in the Teacher Cadet program end up with an area of focus. Senior Trey Cornish will attend Coastal Carolina University in the fall to become a kindergarten teacher, Coleman will attend the University of South Carolina Upstate to become a middle school math teacher, and senior Anyel Pinto will attend Lander University to become an art teacher.

“It’s really meant for those kids who know they want to go in education, really solidify that, and, because of their experiences, hopefully help them narrow down what they want to be,” McCoy said.

George Petersen, founding dean of Clemson’s College of Education, said the program was born out of a need for more teachers.

“When the evidence was clear that the absence of teachers in this state is at a critical juncture, these two leaders — Dr. Miller and Dr. Royster — came together with their teams, and we decided that we needed to do something radically different, something that has not been done before,” Petersen said.

Students are required to maintain at least a 2.75 GPA while at Greenville Technical College in order to transfer to Clemson.

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