Project Promise Delivers
In 14 years, the alternative certification program at Colorado State University, Project Promise, has produced 150 teachers; about 80 percent of them have remained in education. The ten-month intensive program includes student teaching stints in urban and rural schools and lots of group discussion. Included: Description of the Project Promise program.
They were pharmacists, business executives, and fitness instructors who chose to leave their jobs and spend ten months in a Colorado teacher-training boot camp called Project Promise.
Now, Project Promise graduates are sought after by middle and high school administrators who are impressed with their poise, skills, and dedication.
"They are well-prepared," says Sharon Olson, acting assistant principal of Loveland (Colorado) High School. "I always look to Project Promise for student teachers and when hiring teachers. I've hired six to ten Project Promise teachers in the last five years."
Now in its 14th year operating out of the Colorado State University Department of Education, Project Promise's goal is to provide high-caliber secondary school teachers.
The program was started to meet the needs of people changing careers, says Barbara McWhorter, Project Promise director. One hundred and fifty people have completed the program since it began.
"There are a lot of mid-career professionals wanting to come into education," McWhorter tells Education World. "But it's harder for them to fit into a traditional program. Project Promise makes it easier."
This year, 13 people are in the program, and their average age is 29. The program enrolls a maximum of 20 a year. Applicants need to have at least a bachelor's degree and receive a master's degree when they complete the program. McWhorter also looks for people who have experience working with adolescents. "We like people who take risks. We think it takes a courageous person to give up an affluent career and go into teaching," she says.
In the past five years, 100 percent of the graduates have been hired, McWhorter tells Education World. About 80 percent of Project Promise alumni have remained in education over the past 14 years, compared with the 45 percent of teachers from traditional preparation programs who still are teaching after five years, says McWhorter. "These are people who made an informed decision about teaching. They stay longer and almost always rise to the top; they tend to be leaders."
Olson, the Loveland High School administrator, says she has seen those traits in Project Promise graduates she has hired. "They know they want to be teachers," Olson tells Education World. "They are older, they understand the job they have to do, and they do it. They are very motivated. They all have been solidly focused on being great teachers."
Unlike traditional teacher-preparation programs, student teaching is interspersed with classroom time during the ten-month, full-time program; it isn't done just at the end. "We bring them into classes for three weeks, and then they work in schools for two weeks," says McWhorter. She and one other professor teach all the courses and do all the observations.
Project Promise teachers also spend time in urban and rural school settings. While working in a rural school, teachers stayed with families on farms, says Holly Konrady, a Project Promise teacher who will complete the program in May.
"The intensity of the program is the hardest thing," Konrady tells Education World. "You do two student teaching sessions in ten months, one in middle school and one in high school, and teach classes for nine weeks each place. You get a better sampling of all ages. You go in prepared to develop a rapport with the students quickly."
One of Konrady's biggest surprises about teaching is the number of decisions she makes in a day. "I rarely follow a lesson plan to a T," she explains.
Konrady, 45, who is a former fitness instructor and soon-to-be English teacher, says she enrolled in Project Promise when she no longer found the fitness field fulfilling.
She plans to seek a job in North Carolina or Colorado when she completes Project Promise.
"I know the hours will be endless, and there will be tremendous responsibility, but I want to go where I am really needed," says Konrady, who is married and has two children.
A husband and wife who completed the program six years apart tell Education World that Project Promise is a good fit for returning students and that their collective 20 months of work was worth it.
"I loved the idea that they gave us respect for being out and being older," says Darlene Halvorsen, 41, an Earth and environmental science teacher at Loveland High School, who completed Project Promise in May 1999. "I feel up-to-date. I found some teachers from traditional programs didn't know some terminology. I think I was as prepared as I could have been."
Halvorsen's husband, Thompson Valley High School chemistry teacher Douglas Halvorsen, 42, Project Promise 1993, adds, "Everyone had changed professions. It was nice to be around similar-minded people. You got a lot of group feedback; you could come back and discuss issues, and you got a lot of support, which was good because student teaching was so harrowing. I felt better prepared than if I had been in a four-year program. It also teaches you a lot about yourself."
Four of the 12 faculty members in his school's science department are Project Promise graduates, notes Douglas Halvorsen.
Douglas Halvorsen, a former pharmacist, and Darlene Halvorsen, who worked in business, both felt they needed career changes. Douglas Halvorsen discovered he liked the educational aspects of his pharmacy job best, but it was the part on which he spent the least amount of time. Darlene Halvorsen, a science major in college, wanted to return to working in the sciences.
"I like that every day is different," Douglas Halvorsen says. "You can change how you do things; it's dynamic. Younger people energize me."
Both agree that the biggest surprises when they started teaching were the amount of work involved and other people's responses. "The first few years were hard," says Darlene Halvorsen. "It was the workload and the shocking reality of what teachers are expected to do. I feel like I'm working 24/7."
"I'm not sure I had a great opinion of teachers before this," Douglas Halvorsen says. "But I always have work to do."
Darlene Halvorsen says she was struck by how many people questioned her career move. "They don't think of it as an exciting profession," she explains. "I found a loss of respect when I changed careers."
Konrady, though, who will enter the profession after May, is certain she will find teaching rewarding. "If we are going to save some kids, we are going to have to start earlier," she says. "If we don't nurse them early, we are going to have to go back to them."
Article by Gary Hopkins
Copyright © 2006 Education World