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Cultivating future educators

Kinsey Paez, an incoming sophomore at BETA, has learned that being a teacher is not an easy job.

“You have to, for example, be adaptable to different environments and different kids and how they act towards you. … Teachers will be there to help you, and you have to give time to different kids,” she said.

Paez was one of 22 high school freshmen and sophomores who attended “Those Who Can, Teach!”–a new weeklong camp for students interested in getting a degree in education. The camp is the result of a partnership between the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley College of Education and P-16 Integration and the Region I Education Service Center.

“We came together to talk about trying to grow passion for the field of education in young people, young people who have expressed an interest in education but really haven’t had an opportunity to explore it,” said Steve Chamberlain, associate dean for Graduate Programs and P-16 Integration, when asked why the program was started.

The students were from Mercedes High School and South Texas Business, Education, and Technology Academy (BETA). Dariana Garza, an incoming sophomore at BETA, said her education teacher presented her with the opportunity to attend the camp.

“Since about two years ago, I wanted to be a special [education] teacher,” she said. “I’m like, ‘If I want to be a teacher, it would be kind of illogical if I didn’t take the chance.”

The students were divided into four groups and had a counselor assigned to each group. The counselors were recent UTRGV graduates.

“What we were in charge of doing was, basically, overseeing the kids. … Every day they had a certain project to do, certain piece of the final project to do, so we helped them out, guided them in any way,” said camp counselor Victoria Salazar, who graduated with a degree specializing in special education.

Students were given access to iPads and each group used them to produce a final multimedia project that they presented to the camp attendees and special guests. These projects included pictures and clips of their tour of the UTRGV Brownsville campus, interviews with university students, professors and Teachers of the Year Emily Foltz from the Brownsville Independent School District and Janet Solis from Harlingen Consolidated ISD. Each project also included the students reading a letter they wrote to their favorite teacher.

“The days were pretty busy. … We were, like, constantly working and doing hands-on activities and, like, projects. … We really talked a lot about what’s important and how student-teacher relationships are extremely important to have that connection with your student,” said Graciela Webber, an incoming sophomore at BETA.

Camp counselor Hazel Segovia said each group also had discussions on what makes a great teacher and presented these characteristics in an infographic.

“[They] did research on what a teacher is, they did research on information about how many teachers there are, what kind of teachers and they put it all together on a poster,” Segovia said.

Garza learned that teachers need to be patient, kind and reliable.

“You have to be there for them, and let them know that if they need anything you’ll be there,” she said. “You have to encourage them, you have to push them forward. You have to help them build their own little path for their future.”

To recruit students, the college worked together with Region 1 to notify school districts and superintendents about the camp. Mercedes ISD and South Texas ISD expressed interest and became involved. The school also offered a dual-credit course in “Introduction to the Teaching Profession” to high school juniors and seniors on the UTRGV Edinburg campus, and was able to enroll 14 students.

Chamberlain hopes the program will be able to grow on both campuses.

“We offered the course in Edinburg, we offered the camp in Brownsville, but next year we want to offer it in both places. … If there’s demand, if the districts say, ‘Yes, we want more of these kinds of camps,’ then we’ll do it for multiple weeks. … We want to talk to other districts, explore a variety of options. We want to make this accessible to as many students who are interested in it as possible,” he said.

Garza encourages students to attend the camp next year if given the chance.

“Just do it. I mean, it’s a really fun experience,” she said. “It’s something, like, once in a lifetime because it’s only freshmen or sophomore year. And this is, like, a really big step for you to, like, go in your career.”

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