FARMINGTON, NM (AP) – The Alpine III Scholarship Program at San Juan College has many elements, but participant Tyrell Taylor can reduce it to a single sentence.

“For me, it’s about understanding how to teach kids who don’t have the same background as me,” said Taylor, describing the alternative teacher license program he participated in last fall.

The program is focused on educating student teacher trainees in schools across San Juan County who serve large numbers of Native American students. Participants already have a bachelor’s degree in another field and are aiming for a teaching certificate.

They are taught a culturally engaging approach or pedagogical teaching method that helps learners who may struggle with more traditional, standardized forms of teaching, the Farmington Daily Times reported.

Taylor, who is graduating from Rocinante High School, is thrilled to be part of this effort.

“We help children and understand how to teach children with backgrounds that public education isn’t really meant to help,” said Taylor, who was born and raised in Farmington. “This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for me. If you want to help your community, the best way to do this is by participating in a program like this. “

This is the kind of engagement Kari Deswood, program director and teacher education coordinator at San Juan College, looks for when screening prospective program participants.

The program is challenging and puts its participants – or scientists, as Deswood likes to call them – in situations that can be far more difficult than a normal classroom. They must also commit to working for three years after receiving their teaching certificate in schools where their unique skills are most needed.

In return, participants will receive grants of US $ 20,000, which will be paid in installments over the course of the program. Only 10 of the 13 people who applied for the program last fall were accepted, and Deswood knows it is not for everyone.

The state has struggled in the past to attract good public school teachers to many counties, she said, citing its below-average salaries, the lack of adequate technology in many rural areas, and the limited housing options waiting for those who attend draw remote places. This problem was made worse by the challenges of having to teach remotely since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deswood said this created a level of stress that some teachers simply couldn’t stand anymore, and it pushed them out of the job.

But others seem to find great rewards for working in less than ideal circumstances, and this is the kind of scholar Deswood seeks in applicants – perhaps even more than a natural gift for teaching.

“You don’t have to know everything about teaching,” she said. “You just have to be willing to learn and serve the students.”

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Don’t have to go alone

Another Project Alpine scholar, Kaleigh Graham, teaches her students at Piedra Vista High School, her alma mater, where she also works as an assistant coach for the girls’ basketball team. She described herself as extremely pleased with her experience with Project Alpine and is undaunted by the three year commitment to continue teaching at the school that will await her when she receives her certification.

“I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon,” she said.

Graham said that the care she received through the program went a long way in making her comfortable. But she said the sense of camaraderie that has developed among the 10 members of this year’s Project Alpine cohort is just as valuable.

“I honestly don’t know where I would be if I went through this on my own,” she said, explaining that she and her colleagues often compare notes about their experiences and examine ideas for improving communication with their students. “It would be a lonely world.”

Deswood said building this sense of teamwork among scientists is one of the main goals of the program.

“We’re really trying to keep them in a cohort,” she said. “Research has shown that you can count on this support when you can. … As a first year teacher, it is important that you know where to get support. “

Karen Dixon, who is helping Deswood manage the program, said the pandemic made it impossible for her to face this year’s group. However, she reiterated the importance of scientists knowing that support is available to them – both from other scientists and from their mentors – since the pandemic has removed so many normal ways to interact.

“It’s not about having standards and goals and lesson plans,” she said. “It’s about reaching the human side of students and scholars. Our mentoring program is important in helping our scientists become effective. “

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Beaten to the stop

Taylor, who graduated from Rocinante in 2008, credited the school with a solid foundation and said he was eager to return the favor in his new role there.

“Without this school, I would not have a high school diploma or a university degree,” he said.

He said when he started his apprenticeship at the school last fall, he had plenty of ideas on how to work with his students to take advantage of the smaller class sizes, flexible scheduling and loan recovery programs that Rocinante specializes in as ” alternative “institution. He was delighted to find that many of these terms had been implemented since graduating more than a decade ago.

“Which is great,” he said, adding that despite the pandemic, he feels he has received all the resources he needs to help his students study.

Graham of Piedra Vista said she had no idea what culturally responsible education was before joining Project Alpine. But in the past few months she has moved on to a different perspective that has helped her succeed as a teacher and as a person, she said.

“This allows you to open your lens and see things in a different way,” she said. “It’s pretty incredible.”