Grow Your Own: GHS introduces new pathway for aspiring teachers

The nationwide shortage of teachers is a challenge that seemingly every school district is facing. Additionally, fewer students have expressed interest in a teaching career in recent years.

Geneseo High School, therefore, has created the “Grow Your Own” teaching program to capture the interest of potential educators, prepare them for a career as a teacher, and perhaps, eventually bring them back to the district to teach.

Grow Your Own was formally introduced by GHS Principal Tom Ryerson at the Board of Education meeting on Thursday night.

“We used to get 30 to 40 applicants per position five or ten years ago, and now, it’s a fraction of that,” Ryerson stated. “The Grow Your Own program is to get students excited about a teaching career, then provide training and nurturing so they continue to pursue it. Ultimately, we hope those students will consider returning to our district to teach.”

“Nearly two-thirds of our teachers—or their spouse—attended Geneseo High School,” added Superintendent Dr. Adam Brumbaugh. “We must continue to recruit from within to remain a viable district in the years to come.”

Beginning with the 2023-24 school year, seniors will have the opportunity to take a full-year elective course called “Introduction to Education and Teaching.” The class will consist of three instructional days and two days of field experience at one of Geneseo’s schools. Students will be able to visit and observe classrooms, then apply what they have learned in those classrooms.

The course will follow a detailed developed curriculum entitled “Educators Rising” and be taught by Mike Harrington (pictured above along with Ryerson and students who plan to be part of the Grow Your Own program), a social studies teacher and football coach who is in his 17th year at GHS.

“Mr. Harrington has built so many awesome connections with our students,” said Ryerson. “He’s approachable, likable, and he truly cares about the success of our students. As one of our most popular teachers, we felt Mr. Harrington was the best person to step into this role, serve as a mentor, create excitement and cheer them on along the way.”

To date, approximately 35 other teachers throughout Geneseo’s schools have volunteered to participate in the program as a mentor. In that role, they will provide the Grow Your Own students with a learning environment that welcomes and inspires, as well as opportunities for students to engage in educational experiences.

“We’ll factor in the interests of our students—whether it’s teaching pre-kindergarten, elementary, middle school, high school, counseling or social services—when pairing them with a teacher,” explained Ryerson.

Whereas a committee that included Ryerson, Scott Christensen, Kyle Bess, Andrea Snook, Sarah Boone and Michelle Ganson took on a variety of tasks from creating the program’s vision to reviewing the curriculum, the group was also focused on what it could do for its students. 

“There was a lot of emphasis on not only refining the purpose, but considering all of the benefits we can offer our students,” noted Ryerson.

For example, seniors working towards graduation will also have access to job opportunities for students in partnership with local student programs and receive up to four hours of articulated college credit at Black Hawk College or Western Illinois University.

The student benefits extend beyond their GHS graduation, including guaranteed interviews for any open teaching position after their college graduation, paraprofessional examination, application, and registration fees covered by the district, and guaranteed student teacher/practicum placement in the district based upon availability.

“Grow Your Own will be another pathway for our students to consider,” said Ryerson. “Next year, we will have our new Career and Technical Education pathways, and this will be a pathway to a career in education.”

That the pathway may lead former students back to teach in a classroom where they once learned, explained Ryerson, is where the program will pay dividends.

“There is extra meaning whenever a Geneseo graduate teaches in one of our buildings because they have a connection to the community,” Ryerson noted. “Many of our current teachers live in our community and some have kids that go to school here. That kind of vested interest and wanting the best for our own kids is significant.”