Wausau Pilot & Review

Information and photo provided by the D.C. Everest School District

Two recently developed initiatives at the D.C. Everest Senior High provide current students and alumni with expanded opportunities in the field of education — the Teachers Change Lives course and the Always an Evergreen Educator talent pipeline.

In January 2018, the D.C. Everest Senior High celebrated its inaugural Teachers Change Lives course graduates — 25 juniors and seniors who had completed a semester-long course that challenges students to take on the responsibilities of an educator. As DCE Superintendent Kristine Gilmore noted at the time, “Our goal in designing this course was to show you that as an educator you really can make an impact on a child’s life — and it’s an amazing experience. But,” she noted, “it’s not always easy. You will have challenging days — and I’m sure you experienced that. But here you are — the first students to complete this course and impact the lives of others.”

Three years later, Teachers Change Lives remains popular with students interested in exploring a career in education. The semester-long course includes in-class activities on Mondays and Wednesdays, practicum experience on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Fridays devoted to prep days — creating lesson and discipline plans, assessments and blog posts that capture the students’ experiences. To gain practicum experience, students select a teacher mentor to work with based on which grade level and subject matter they would like to focus on. Besides the practicum experience, each student develops a portfolio — a collection of insights, photos, blog posts, thank you letters from students and the actual classroom plans they constructed — they can share when applying to universities. Claire Tesch, a current DCE Senior notes the course was “absolutely one of the best classes I’ve taken here at DCE. Being able to actively participate in an Elementary class and see first hand what it’s like to interact and teach Elementary students was the greatest experience.” She continues, “The course also showed me how much work outside of school many teachers put into their classroom to help students become successful.” Although challenging, the course was rewarding. “The most rewarding aspect was teaching a lesson that every student really enjoyed, you could see the excitement,” she adds.

As part of its Portrait of a Graduate initiative, the district has made a concerted effort to increase work-based learning opportunities for students — with more than 50 DCE Senior High students serving as Youth Apprentices and more than 60 in the process of securing internships/apprenticeships. Now, DCE Community Partnership Coordinator Rose Matthiae, DCE Career and Technical Education Coordinator Aaron Hoffman, DCE Teachers Change Lives Instructor Brad Seeley, and Paul Aleckson, Coordinator for the Always An Evergreen Educator project, have developed a new Education Internship opportunity for students who complete the Teachers Change Lives course. “The statewide Youth Apprenticeship Program does not include program opportunities for students interested in Business, Education, Government, Human Services, and Law and Public Safety,” clarifies Rose Matthiae. “When I was approached on how we could offer a semester-long experience in education, I suggested we create an internship because we have the associated course, a supportive district, and a new program to recruit alumni. Creating an Education Internship provides students with additional experiences outside of the classroom to practice skills, evaluate curriculum and work environments, make connections, build confidence, and increase overall career awareness,” she adds.

Upon completion of the Teachers Change Lives course, students can apply for an Education Internship and, if accepted, embed with a DCE teacher for the semester. In order to earn credit for this experience, the intern must complete 90 hours of work and is eligible to receive a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Youth Leadership Certificate. Ms. Tesch is the first DCE student to enter the internship program. Beginning January 31, Claire will embed at Evergreen Elementary three afternoons a week throughout the second semester where she will be mentored by Sara Widmann, Kathy Kowalke, and Dawn Hanson (4th grade) in the areas of Math, Science, Social Studies, Reading and Health. As an intern, Claire will take part in classroom observation, one-to-one tutoring, small group instruction, teaching lessons, classroom management, and recording her self-reflections in a journal and portfolio website.I am so excited for this opportunity and for students like Claire,” notes DCE instructor Brad Seeley. “I have said it many times to my students in our Teachers Change Lives course. We need young, energetic, creative and passionate people like them in the teaching profession. They will have a strong understanding before going to college if teaching is for them and not have to find that answer out three years into college. What a huge advantage to know your answer, “What do I want to be?” when you leave high school.”

Ms. Tesch, who began her Education Internship January 31 is grateful for the experience. “The Education Internship gives me the opportunity to really know whether this is something I want to pursue in college. I’ve always enjoyed being in school, especially in my elementary years, and I want to choose a career that I love and have an interest in. I also hope to gain confidence with my lessons and teaching in front of a class,” she states. In the fall, she will attend the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and pursue a double major in Elementary and Physical Education. “I will be starting as a second semester freshman with my current AP, DE, and college credits.” And, she adds enthusiastically, “ I have also committed to their swim and dive team, so I am beyond excited to start this new chapter of my life!”

Paul Aleckson, retired DCE Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator and instructor, played an integral role in the development of the Teachers Change Lives course. Over the past three years, he has developed the Always an Evergreen Educator talent pipeline project — maintaining contact with numerous DCE alumni who completed the course and are pursuing a degree in education. “My goal, then and now, is to provide our students — and alumni — with great educational experiences and opportunities to succeed,” he notes. With that in mind, he has worked with the District to establish the Always an Evergreen Educator program to make DCE alumni aware of practicum and career opportunities available within the District. While this effort specifically targets DCE alumni, it is important to note the District does provide practicum opportunities for non-alumni as well. 

Students pursuing a degree in education are required to complete practicums as an undergraduate, prior to serving as a student-teacher. Mr. Aleckson plays a key role in helping DCE alumni obtain this experience. So far this year, he has placed 13 DCE alumni enrolled at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point in classrooms throughout the District. The aspiring teachers participate in weekly practicums, progressing from classroom observation, to working with individuals and small groups of students, to eventually taking full responsibility for a few classroom sessions. For alumni who attend a university that is farther away, Mr. Aleckson has arranged for them to complete week-long, full-day practicums during their winter and spring breaks. This summer, he hopes to provide practicum and teaching opportunities through the District’s Summer Learning Program. 

“A variety of reasons have led to a diminished pool of young teachers,” notes Paul Aleckson. “Therefore it is important for the district to cultivate and recruit talented students interested in education as a career who come through our own DCE classrooms.” According to Mr. Aleckson, this is why he and Brad Seeley wrote the curriculum for Teachers Change Lives and eventually created the Always an Evergreen Educator program.

As part of her responsibilities, Rose Matthiae helps students secure internship, apprenticeship and work study opportunities. Area businesses and organizations are encouraged to contact her at rmatthiae@dce.k12.wi.us or 715.359.6561 (x 4250) to explore partnership opportunities. Undergraduate students seeking practicum opportunities at D.C. Everest are encouraged to contact Paul Aleckson at paleckson@dce.k12.wi.us.