- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

Ashlie Grasso is 17 and still in high school, but she could be the latest, most effective weapon in the ongoing battle against teacher shortages.
Ashlie has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. She will get a head start on her dream this spring when she attends evening classes at Montgomery College's Rockville campus that will set her on the road to a teaching career even before she finishes high school.
By the time she graduates from high school, Ashlie will have earned 10 college credits toward a teaching degree, and overworked recruiters can rest assured they have a teacher in the making.
Students like Ashlie are part of the aggressive efforts school districts and teachers colleges are making to get high school students involved in and committed to teaching as a career.
Some high schools and middle schools in Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George's counties already have future educators' clubs where interested students meet regularly with advisers to learn about teaching as a potential career.
But new programs, like the one at Montgomery College, aim straight at the heart of the problem by getting students to make an early commitment to a teaching career.
"We call it recruiting at home," said Elizabeth Arons, associate superintendent for human resources in Montgomery County's public schools system, which is partnering with Montgomery College on the program. She said trying to get students committed to teaching after they graduate from high school doesn't always work, "because if they start off at some other subject at college, they might want to stay in it. But if they start off early in education, they are more likely to become teachers."
Also starting next year is a program at Prince George's Community College, which will try to lure high school students to teaching jobs by inviting them to visit their teachers' education classes on campus.
Recruiters say this is a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Ashlie, for instance, says this is a chance to realize her dreams at a comparatively low price tag.
"Also, I would rather stay local. I am not a person to get away from home," she said.
The greatest beneficiaries will be public schools. Montgomery County, like other school districts in the region and nationwide, has been struggling to find good teachers although its salaries are among the most competitive in the region.
When schools opened this year, Montgomery County was short 40 teachers, while Prince George's was still looking for 132 teachers. In Maryland altogether, 8,100 teacher positions needed to be filled for the 2001-2002 school year, while Virginia needed 7,600 teachers.
As a result of the shortages, school districts often have been forced to select candidates from a shrinking pool and even hire uncertified teachers, particularly in areas like special education and math where the shortages are severe.
In Maryland, a study of the shortages showed that the state's colleges did not produce enough teachers of its own, said Maryland's Assistant Superintendent of Schools Lawrence Leak. "We also found that 60 percent of our teachers come from community colleges," he said.
The program at Montgomery College is a result of a decision the state made earlier this year that colleges say has strengthened their programs and offers them new confidence to recruit aggressively. Students who begin their four-year associate of arts in teaching degree at a community college in Maryland can now expect to transfer to four-year universities without loss of credit.
"Before this, a student at a community college would take courses only to find later that another four-year institution wouldn't accept them," Mr. Leak said.
At Montgomery College, which, like other community colleges, offers only the first two years toward this degree, students would need to maintain a 2.75 grade-point average, said Ginny Buckner, chairman of the education department.
High school students enrolled in their program would take two courses in spring and another one in summer, she said.
After the first two years at the community college, students could transfer to the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Towson University and others.
Montgomery College already has started enrolling students for its first semester in January and hopes to have 20 students by the time the semester begins, Ms. Buckner said.
"But as the word gets out, we hope to have 50 students in [the program] next fall," she said.
As for Ashlie, who also interns as a teachers' assistant at Beals Elementary in Montgomery, the teaching classes will add an extra three hours to her weekly schedule. But she is not complaining, especially since she says she sees how badly teachers are needed.
"Nobody I know of wants to be a teacher, and there is a strong need. I feel I can donate my time and give what I have learned to others," she said.

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