- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - William Fleming High School junior Quasmirah Allen, 17, wasn’t sitting behind a desk in a classroom listening to a teacher.

Instead she was at the front of the room as a group of curious kindergartners gazed up at her. For a few minutes she was the teacher, not the student.

Allen and several of her classmates are educators in training as part of Roanoke’s newest career tech offering called Teachers for Tomorrow. The city school division joined the statewide program this year to develop its own educators and diversify its teaching staff.

Across Virginia last year, 57 school systems, including nearby Botetourt, Roanoke and Franklin counties, offered the program. Its curriculum aims to identify future teachers, give them training and encourage them to pursue a teaching career.

In Roanoke, about 30 students, including Allen, enrolled and the division hopes to increase that number next year. The inaugural group recently started doing site visits, including the one Oct. 16 at Round Hill Elementary, where they led a short activity with pupils and spent time observing.

“I love being hands-on and actually coming here,” Allen said during the school visit.

Her group wrote a skit about self-esteem to share with the kindergartners. They recently learned about barriers to education, one of which can be self-esteem.

“I’m very interested in working with kids of all ages,” Allen said, adding that one day she’d like to own her own day care center.

Allen and others in the program said so far they like it, especially being able to work with children.

“It’s surprisingly better than what I thought,” said senior Jasmine Reynolds, 17, explaining that the students get to do things teachers do.

They gave the course a rave review and anticipated the experience will put them ahead of the curve in college.

“We’ll already be prepared with a background of teaching,” said senior Jessica Mundy, 17, who has wanted to be a high school English teacher ever since she was in fourth grade.

Most in the group said they’d like to work with younger pupils. Fleming sophomore Julie Myrtil, 16, said she’d like to teach first- and second-graders.

“I love the smiles they give,” she said.

Fleming junior Hanson Yah, 17, also wants to work with younger children.

“Not too grown,” he said.

Yah was one of two boys on the Round Hill visit. He said he has two siblings plus cousins and nephews he’s helped raise so he likes teaching and working with children. He admitted some people would rather become doctors or lawyers, but he said he wonders where those professions would be without teachers.

“The teachers show them the right path,” he said. “Everyone turns down teaching because the pay is less .. We have to put them on the right path.”

Kathy Duncan, Roanoke Technical Education Center principal and career technical education director, observed students during the visit. She said it’s important that students get the foundation of education and a taste of teaching.

So far she’s pleased with the program’s progress and she sees it making an impact on the school system.

“Roanoke city is committed to recruiting and retaining high quality teachers,” she said. “What we’re going to find and what we’re going to have are Roanoke students coming back to Roanoke.”

It’s not the first time Roanoke has looked to its own students to fill its teaching ranks. In 1994 the city had a program called Tomorrow’s Teachers, and like the program today the initiative sought to train the next generation of educators.

That version offered students full scholarships to Virginia Tech with the agreement they come back to teach in Roanoke for four years. The program was intended to encourage more black educators to teach in Roanoke schools.

Former city student Kurrai Thompson was one member of the first, small class to graduate from the now-defunct program. She was recruited while a high school student at Patrick Henry. Today she is the teacher leading Teachers for Tomorrow in Roanoke.

“I always wanted to become a teacher,” she said, explaining she played at teaching her stuffed animals as a child. “It just strengthened the idea it’s what I wanted to do.”

She told The Roanoke Times in 1994 that she liked working with people and hoped to spark an interest in learning among children.

“I liked my student teaching, and I think I will like being a teacher,” she said then.

Now she’s been teaching for 21 years and is excited about training another generation of educators.

“I wanted to bring in teachers, strong teachers,” she said. “I look at them and I see myself.”

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com

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