Site last updated: Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Log In

Reset Password
MENU
Butler County's great daily newspaper

Demand high for Pa.’s new $10,000 stipend for student teachers

An empty elementary school classroom is seen on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York. Associated Press file photo
College students must commit to teaching in the state for 3 years

Grace Donnelly has known she wanted to be a teacher since her junior year of high school, when she worked as a counselor at Camp Kanesatake.

Donnelly, an education student at Slippery Rock University, will start student teaching next year. Last Thursday was her first day of pre-student teaching at Buffalo Elementary School, where she observes teachers in classrooms a few days a week and teaches a few lessons.

But about 15 minutes after school started, Donnelly, with prior approval from her field supervisor, opted out of introductions and got her laptop out, joining thousands of other aspiring teachers in Pennsylvania applying for a new $10,000 stipend.

The $10 million student teaching stipend launched last week through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. The stipend is designed to address a statewide teacher shortage and ease the financial burden taken on by student teachers undertaking unpaid teaching requirements.

The stipend, which is part of the Educator Pipeline Support Grant Program, was signed into law by Gov. Josh Shapiro in 2023.

Student teachers in high-need schools are eligible to receive an additional $5,000.

“The program also provides up to $2,500 to cooperating teachers who will be working with and mentoring student teachers throughout the student teacher experience,” the agency states in a news release.

Grant recipients must commit to teaching in Pennsylvania for three years following the completion of their teaching certification, or risk repaying the grant, according to the agency.

Funds will be made available beginning in the 2024-25 school year on a first-come, first-served basis, and applicants will be notified in August if they got the grant.

Donnelly will start student teaching next year. She said she expects to hear whether she eligible for the funds by June or July.

For Donnelly, a junior, the stipend would help cover essentials such as housing, food, commuting costs, professional attire, books and lesson planning materials.

Donnelly’s scholarship covers tuition, she said, but without the stipend, she said she would have to rely on loans.

“(The stipend) would definitely relieve some school stress,” she said.

James Preston, assistant to the dean of education and associate professor of elementary education and early childhood development at SRU, said nearly every student teacher at the university applied for the program.

SRU expects to have more than 300 student teachers for the 2024-25 academic year, he said.

“Aspiring teachers do incur a number of expenses that other students at the university may not face,” Preston said, noting expenses such as travel, professional wear and teacher certification costs.

Preston said it costs $200 to apply for teaching certification. He said aspiring teacher applying for certain certifications must take four exams, which can rack up hundreds of dollars.

“The other challenge aspiring teachers face is simply the demand of doing the work associated with the full-time job of teaching, with no pay,” Preston said. “Student teachers are discouraged from working while student teaching so that they can commit their time to learning how to teach and to the students in the classroom in which they are placed.

“The typically aged college student is working more and more to put themselves through school or, at the very least, reduce the debt that they may incur upon graduation,” he said. “Additionally, we are seeing many more career-changers being called to the profession of teaching. For those aspiring educators, it is nearly impossible to complete 16 weeks of student teaching without some income.”

In both cases, Preston said, the stipend program could be beneficial.

‘Glaring mismatch’

Preston also has concerns about the program’s first-come, first-served approach, which he said “would only exacerbate the inequity.”

“Within a mere week of making the application available, reports surfaced indicating that the response had surged to five times the initially allocated funds,” Preston stated.

The $10 million grant only has enough funding for about 650 student teachers, according to state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, who helped lead the bipartisan initiative.

“My primary concern lies in the glaring mismatch between the overwhelming demand and the limited resources for the program,” Preston said.

“I hold out hope that legislators will recognize the pressing need and allocate additional funds to bolster this vital program,” he said.

Hopes

According to Kristen Clouse, director of human resources at Butler Area School District, district officials are hopeful the stipend program will attract more student teachers.

“Now that there is an opportunity for student teachers and educational specialists to receive payment during their student teaching experience or internship, we expect to see more student teachers interested in Butler Area School District,” Clouse said.

Karns City Area School District superintendent Eric Ritzert said it would take some time to see if the program attracts additional teacher candidates to the profession.

“We have sometimes experienced a decline in the number of applicants for certain specialized positions,” Ritzert said. “If this program increases interest in becoming a teacher, it could help Pennsylvania train more new teachers to replace those who are retiring or will be retiring soon, which would help districts like ours.”

In Knoch School District, it has been difficult to attract chemistry and technology education teachers, according to superintendent David Foley.

“Because we are in southern Butler County, we do not normally get a lot of student teachers from colleges to our north, and we are farther from Pittsburgh colleges and universities than other schools,” Foley said.

“It would be great if the new rules would result in more applicants for positions throughout the district,” he said.

According to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, the number of teachers receiving certification in the state has fallen from about 20,000 each year to about 5,000 to 6,000.

Donnelly said preparing to enter a field facing a shortage of professionals in the state and a number of challenges doesn’t deter her from pursuing her dream vocation.

“I think I still have a passion and hope for (teaching),” Donnelly said. “Teachers are what makes everyone else. At the end of the day, everyone needs to go through schooling, even if it’s not through the typical American education system.”

“I’m sticking to what I’m passionate about,” she said.

Grace Donnelly, a junior education student at Slippery Rock University, joined thousands of other aspiring teachers last Thursday in applying for a new state grant that would award student teachers a stipend. Holly Mead/Special to the Eagle

More in Education

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter

* indicates required
TODAY'S PHOTOS