Why Golden Apple is offering 50 students a full ride to earn a teaching certificate
Barbara Cataldo felt her "heart wasn't being fulfilled" working in the business world.
The Naperville resident switched careers, earned a master's degree and became a teacher instead.
"And I never looked back," said Cataldo, who taught kindergarten through second grade for many years at a Woodridge elementary school and earned a Golden Apple Award.
Now, Cataldo will mentor people like herself who want to switch careers and become teachers through a new Golden Apple initiative.
Starting this summer, Golden Apple Illinois is giving 50 people who want to switch careers, but lack the resources, a full ride to earn a teaching certificate through its new Accelerators Program.
The one-year program aims to tackle the state's teacher shortage. It is targeted at college seniors not enrolled in a teacher preparation program or people with bachelor's degrees who are not certified to teach.
It will start in the rural areas where the teacher shortage is more acute, with the goal of eventually expanding it to the suburbs "wherever there are districts that are needy," Golden Apple President Alan Mather said.
"We would like to partner with some of the suburban areas outside of Chicago that have the same trouble in finding teachers in special education, bilingual education and STEM fields," Mather said.
The school districts that are struggling the most to find teachers have high minority student enrollment, large populations of low-income students and severe funding problems, according to the state board of education.
Golden Apple is known for its 35-year-old awards program recognizing excellence in teaching and leadership, as well as its Scholars program providing $23,000 in tuition assistance and teacher preparation for high school seniors and first- and second-year Illinois college students who commit to working in schools with the highest need.
"We have just under 800 students who are preparing to be teachers in schools with need," Mather said.
Last May, Illinois lawmakers authorized $750,000 in funding for the new Accelerators Program.
The first batch of students is limited to 50 people who will begin classes this summer with instruction from Golden Apple Award-winning educators.
Mentors will be matched based on students' areas of interest, said Kristie Charles of Palatine, a recently retired Palatine Township Elementary District 15 teacher and Golden Apple fellow who will help guide program participants this summer.
Charles said the program is "hugely important" because of the severe teacher shortage statewide.
In suburban Cook County, 42% of district superintendents said there were significantly fewer qualified applicants for teaching jobs in 2018 compared to 2013, according to a survey conducted by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools. In southern Illinois, that rate was 92%.
"Just in my district, we are going to have hundreds and hundreds of people who are retiring this year," Charles said.
Selected Accelerator Program participants will receive a $30,000 stipend covering the cost of completing coursework and credits leading to licensure or a master's degree in teaching as part of a one-year training and residency program through two partner universities -- Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and Blackburn College in Carlinville.
"They will have a one-year residency in a targeted district in southern, central or western Illinois," Mather said. "We are partnering with regional offices of education. They have a number of Tier 1 schools, those that are the neediest."
Participants will complete much of their coursework online and be placed in schools this fall for the residency portion of the program.
They will begin teaching full time in fall 2021 and receive mentoring in the first years of teaching. Golden Apple Accelerators commit to teaching at least four years at a school-of-need in targeted communities.
Anyone can apply for the program. Applications are being accepted through Feb. 20 at goldenapple.org/accelerators.
So far, 238 applications had been received.
"We have a significant pool," Mather said. "People who have applied this year may not get in this year. For us to be able to sustain and grow (the program), we are asking the legislature this year (2020-21) for $5 million."
Additional funding will allow Golden Apple to expand the program and support more teaching candidates, he said.