Melanie Jaramillo ’20 BGS, ’22 MA currently works as a special education teacher at Amity High School in Woodbridge, but only a few years ago was planning a career in finance. Just as many educators were contemplating leaving the field due to the hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jaramillo decided to become a teacher and enrolled at the Neag School of Education.
“Though the finance life has its perks for some people, I quickly learned it wasn’t for me,” she says. “It wasn’t until I began tutoring during the pandemic that I discovered my love for teaching.”
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough people like Jaramillo, and schools across Connecticut and the nation are struggling to find teachers to meet the needs of their students. According to a recent report published by the Connecticut Department of Education, the state had 1,221 teaching vacancies and another 1,322 paraprofessional vacancies going into the 2022-2023 school year. The data was collected through an August 2022 staffing survey of all school districts and approved private special education providers in Connecticut.
A national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences in October also found that 48% of schools in the Northeast felt their school is understaffed and 53% reported not being able to fill vacant teaching positions since the start of COVID-19.
“There is no denying that it is a stressful time to be an educator, whether in the classroom or an administration office,” says Neag School Dean Jason G. Irizarry. “Yet, we are starting to see encouraging trends in enrollment and interest in our programs at the Neag School which will have a positive impact in schools across the state and nation.”
Not only has the Neag School boosted enrollment in its teacher education programs, but it also recently expanded its programmatic offerings to train more educators and support Connecticut’s schools.
Teacher Education Programs Increase Enrollment
Total student enrollment in the Neag School’s Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates (TCPCG) has returned to pre-pandemic levels – in fact it has increased by about 3% from 2017 to 2022 – and the total number of students of color who are enrolled in that program has increased 111% over the same time period. The 11-month, full-time program is designed for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree and wish to earn their teacher certification in a specific subject area. It operates out of UConn’s four regional campuses: Avery Point, Hartford, Stamford, and Waterbury.
The Neag School’s Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Teacher Education Program has also seen increases in both the total number of admitted students (up 12.4%) and the number of admitted students of color (up 33%) since 2017. The five-year program allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree in education, followed by one year of graduate-level professional education leading to a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction or educational psychology.
A Rise in First-Generation College Students
Since the 2019-2020 academic year, the number of newly enrolled, first-generation college students at the Neag School has increased by 39%. There was a slight dip in new first-gen students in 2020-2021, but their enrollment has since recovered and surpassed pre-pandemic levels. The majority of the School’s first-generation students are studying in undergraduate programs and will become educators and sports management professionals across the country.
“I am a proud first-generation college graduate,” Irizarry says. “My professional trajectory and current role as dean of the Neag School are evidence of what is possible when first-gen students are supported by their institutions of higher education. The impact the Neag School’s first-generation students will have in their respective fields cannot be overstated.”
Offering Programs in Fairfield County
As of spring 2022, three Neag School programs now offer cohorts in Fairfield County.
TCPCG enrolled its first UConn Stamford cohort in summer 2022, joining cohorts in Avery Point, Hartford, and Waterbury. Rooted in the Neag School’s commitment to urban education, TCPCG at UConn Stamford partners with the region’s diverse schools and with districts across the state.
As of last year, the program even offers students a paid internship through select school districts. The students spend five days a week in either Bridgeport, Bristol, Fairfield, Hartford, Waterbury, or Waterford, learning how schools operate, observing educators, and assisting classrooms as paraprofessionals. Not only do students gain invaluable experience, but the schools receive support as they battle staff shortages.
“Having grown up in Stamford and started my undergraduate years at UConn Stamford, I was so excited to hear about the recent expansion of TCPCG,” says Jaramillo, who graduated from the program’s Waterbury cohort in May 2022.
The University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program – or UCAPP – is dedicated to preparing highly qualified school leaders to promote equity and excellence in schools. Graduates are awarded the Sixth-Year Diploma and are eligible for certification endorsement as an Intermediate Administrator in the state of Connecticut. The program expanded to add a Stamford cohort in 2022.
Finally, the Neag School’s Executive Leadership Program is now also available at UConn Stamford, making it readily accessible to educators in southern Connecticut. The one-year program is designed to prepare experienced educational leaders to serve as superintendents of schools or in other district-level leadership positions.
“We’ve heard from many alumni and schools across the state and their requests for support as they battle these shortages,” Irizarry says. “The interest in and applications for our teacher education program is high, and we’re doing everything possible to expand the pool of highly qualified teachers to meet the needs of Connecticut’s schools.”