SPRINGFIELD – Westfield State University and Springfield Public Schools have announced a new “Reach to Teach” collaboration program. The program will allow for 20 students from Springfield Public Schools to enroll in Westfield State’s education program, so long as they return to teach in the schools for at least three years after graduation.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Westfield State University interim President Elizabeth Preston, Springfield Superintendent Dan Warwick, Dean of the Education Department at Westfield State Cheryl Stanley and Westfield State, Inc., Foundation Director Mike Knapik made the announcement on Feb. 25 at Springfield City Hall. State Sen. Jim Welch and state Rep. John Velis were also there to congratulate both sides.
The “Reach to Teach” will identify students from middle school and high school age, have them work with mentors through the Springfield schools and eventually return to help build up and diversify the teaching staff at all levels.
Preston said that these type of “grow your own” programs have proven effective in other areas and will help Springfield schools on two fronts: giving enrolled students a path and showing future students the importance of education. By taking students from the Springfield schools that will eventually contribute back to the system through which they came, Preston said it is the “best possible world.”
Sarno said that by simply providing an opportunity, Springfield has taken a big step.
“We’re moving forward in the right direction,” Sarno said. “There are still urban challenges that we face and need to conquer, but give that young person, no matter creed, color or background, the opportunity to be educated, the opportunity to open doors, the opportunity to dictate their future and provide for themselves and their families, that’s a win-win situation.”
The program will especially drive these students into areas that are in desperate need of qualified staff: math, science and special education.
“This is an opportunity for us to build our own candidates with an institution that has always provided us with excellent candidates,” Warwick said. “Westfield State has always had a tremendous program, and they continue to have a tremendous program so that the candidates can reflect this city and reflect the diversity of the city so they can connect with our kids.”
When it came down to the logistics of this program, Warwick commended his assistant superintendent, Lydia Martinez, with doing most of the negotiating on the side of Springfield schools. However, all of the presenters said that having Westfield State on-board was a no-brainer and has made a huge impact.
According to statistics presented by the Westfield State staff, about 78 percent of the alumni that has remained in Hampden County received education-related degrees and certificates from the university.
Preston said that this reputation in the field of education is no surprise at all
“Teaching people how to teach is in our DNA. This is what we’ve been doing since our inception,” Preston said. “For 175 years, that’s been at the very heart of our mission.”
For the students participating in the Reach to Teach program, being able to receive their degree from a well-respected education program is a selling point. The other important facet is a guaranteed start to their career upon graduation.
Students will be promised a job in the district, as long as they stay for three years. This is something that Knapik stressed is critical, especially in the 21st century and as the cost of college gets more and more expensive.
Aside from having an impact on an individual basis, the hope is that the program and its enrollees will create a larger ripple affect and long-term, systemic change in the district.
The presenters reiterated throughout the announcement that students perform at their best when they relate to their teachers. This program will give Springfield students a chance to do so.
“I think that’s the uniqueness that this program can bring to our kids in our system, saying ‘Hey, hey, hey. I sat where you sat in that classroom, so don’t tell me you can’t make it. I made it. I’ve gone through the same things you have. I went on and now, I’m back here to teach you,’” Sarno said. “I think that’s a strong message being sent.”