As the U.S. faces a catastrophic teacher shortage, educational institutions work to meet the demand for professional educators. To inspire and encourage competently trained teachers for the State of Maine, the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) offered a daylong teacher education-focused open house on Friday, Oct. 21.
“Nothing really shows you if a college is the best fit for you until you visit the campus and meet professors and current college students,” said Kerry Kowalczyk, the MELMAC/JMG College and Career Specialist for WHS. “The whole point of this field trip was to provide the first example of an educationally focused college and if the program fits a student's needs. But what made this trip more remarkable is that our WHS students met successful UMF graduates who are happy and successful teachers today.”
Kowalczyk said that the students learned about the intricacies of the educational career and how one can flourish in education, despite the current challenges.
“The students were offered a wide array of opportunities to discover everything about the teaching profession from Early Childhood Education, Special Education, Secondary and Middle School Education, as well as world languages,” Kowalczyk said. “There was something for everyone who is considering being a teacher.”
The day included an introduction of the soon-to-be-updated renovation of the nationally accredited Sweatt-Winter Child Care and Early Education Center. This 10,384-square-foot state-of-the-art childcare and academic facility will allow UMF to create at least 20 slots for high-quality infant and toddler care in Franklin County and increase enrollment in its undergraduate and graduate Early Childhood Education programs by at least 20 percent.
Despite the challenges educators face today, there is still hope and optimism among the WHS students who want and strive to be educators for future generations. Almost half of the students attending the daylong event were sophomores.
“I want to be a special education teacher who can help others overcome challenges,” said WHS sophomore Annabelle Demar. “I wanted to see what UMF’s educational program was about. I loved the campus. I loved meeting the professors and students getting their degrees in education. Attending UMF is a real possibility for me once I graduate.”
WMS sophomores Abby Dumont and Katelyn Cotter also shared their experiences.
“I know I want to do something with kids, and I’m thinking about special education as a possibility,” Dumont said. “This trip was my first visit to a college campus, so I really do not have anything to compare it to. But I was impressed with the library and all the resources it had to offer students and teachers. I will remember this library program when I visit other colleges.”
Dumont was referring to the Spenciner Curriculum Materials Center, which UMF Library staff monitors and provides materials and educational experiences for pre-service and in-service teachers, education professionals, individuals with disabilities, and their families.
Cotter agreed with Dumont regarding the unique setup at the Materials Center and believes UMF is the right option for her.
“This wasn’t my first time on the campus because my brother is a student there, and I’ve visited him a couple of times,” Cotter said. “But it is the first time I saw the education department and met the professors and other students. Although I will probably go on other college tours, I was very impressed with the educational program at UMF and think I will choose Farmington to get my degree.”
For sophomore Hannah Bowker, who wants to be a high school French teacher, the education-focused conference helped her to make a different decision.
“I loved the campus; it was beautiful, and the education program is amazing, but I think attending a larger institution is more what I want,” Bowker said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to advise someone to visit the campus because UMF has much to offer for a degree in education.”
All the WHS students who attended the conference reiterated what Kowalczyk said, agreeing that the conference was helpful as they make their future choice regarding their college careers. If the opportunity arises again for another UMF conference, they all said that they would advise other students to attend.
The WHS field trip was funded by the Windham MELMAC grant, a gift providing the high school with post-planning opportunities. The MELMAC Education Foundation is an organization that supports high-quality initiatives that increase educational options for Maine people. <