College students helping Meriden and Cheshire schools with staffing shortages

As a way to help school districts when there is lack of teachers, the state Department of Education came up with a program to send college students into area school districts.

The state education department and Connecticut State Colleges and Universities created NextGen to help alleviate COVID-related staffing issues in all grades.

Students who participate get classroom experience while being paid.

“They are employed by the district but at the same time they’re college students that are getting experiences beyond the field experiences and clinical experiences that they’re getting through their (college) programming to really solidify the fact that they want to be educators,” said Marilu Rochefort, assistant director in the office of educational services at Southern Connecticut State University.

SCSU has been partnered with Cheshire Public Schools, but is hoping to expand to other districts.

“As time goes on, we’ll see where the needs go and then see how we can continue to be an asset for our students that are participating,” Rochefort said.

Jeffrey Solan, superintendent of Cheshire Public Schools, said the college students have worked well with students and faculty members.

The students “resonate really well with our students being young people themselves in the classroom and they have connected well with the teachers in our building as part of the school’s community,” Solan said.

Rickqueal Warren, a senior at SCSU participating in the program, said he has had opportunities to experience different roles in the classroom.

“I’ve been the head teacher, I’ve been the assistant teacher, I’ve been able to work one on one with kids in the special education program,” Warren said.

“I just have had very different experiences inside the school system that I wouldn’t have been able to get if it wasn’t for the program.”

Stephen Hegedus, dean of the College of Education at SCSU, said the program helps the public schools and the university.

“Anything we can do to increase the numbers of students interested in education and getting them into that pathway toward being an educator sooner is something that is very much a part of our mission at the College of (Education),” Hegedus said.

Recently, Meriden Public Schools partnered with Wesleyan University to give college students field work opportunities.

“They do some shadowing for a certain number of hours over a semester,” said Louis Bronk, assistant superintendent for personnel and talent development.

“They can be a second set of hands in the classroom to help with small groups.”

Jesse Torgerson, assistant professor of letters at Wesleyan, said his class worked with Maloney High School in Meriden this fall on an initiative focusing on the eastern Roman empire during the Middle Ages.

Torgerson’s class used what they learned to create lessons for ninth grade world history classes.

“The (Wesleyan) students created a unit that focused on the city of Constantinople by having the students at Maloney imagine a fictional character who is showing up at the city,” Torgerson said. “I had 20 students in my class and they were divided into teaching teams.”

The college students worked with 10 different classes at the high school.

Torgerson feels the experience helped “normalize what a college student is” for the high school freshman.

“I think when you’re in ninth grade college seems a million miles away,” Torgerson said.

“I think the students getting to spend two and a half weeks with some extremely friendly and personable college students from what they know as an elite liberal arts college made a difference.”


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