South Dakota universities recently became eligible to apply for RAP funding to address the teacher shortage across the state.

Students who participate in the Teacher Fellows program will work in South Dakota public schools in various education positions, while earning their education degree at USD or USD – Sioux Falls. Each Teacher Fellow will receive an on-site mentor, who will support them on their journey to becoming a licensed teacher.

“These positions allow students to receive hands-on mentoring and on-the-job learning, aligning their coursework in the Teacher Residency & Education division with real-world experiences,” said Amy Schweinle, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education. “This ensures that the skills and knowledge acquired in the classroom directly apply to the tasks and responsibilities of their apprenticeships.”

DLR apprenticeship funding also includes $6,500 in tuition reimbursement for each year a student participates in the Teacher Fellows program. Teacher Fellows can also apply for funds for job-related and teacher preparation expenses such as Praxis exams, student teaching insurance, and textbooks. Teacher Fellows will be paid for their work in the classroom and receive wage increases as they progress in their degree and demonstrate core competencies.

“The program acknowledges their growth and dedication by rewarding them with financial incentives for each year they participate in the Teacher Fellows RAP,” said Schweinle.

Another benefit of the Teacher Fellows program is the potential for USD students to be paid for their yearlong teacher residency (also known as student teaching). This eliminates an economic barrier for students who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend an unpaid, yearlong teacher residency experience. USD will work with K-12 partner school districts across South Dakota, who already host USD teacher residents, to create paid teacher residency positions at participating schools. Teacher Fellows are also incentivized to return to their hometown.

“The Teacher Fellow RAP will play a vital role in addressing the critical need for well-educated and highly prepared teachers in South Dakota,” said Schweinle.

Upon completion of the program, Teacher Fellows earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in elementary, secondary, and/or special education, a South Dakota Teaching Certificate, and a certificate of apprenticeship from the DLR. This comprehensive set of credentials equips graduates with the necessary qualifications to pursue successful careers in education, empowering them to make a positive impact in classrooms and communities.

“Well-prepared teachers, supported by scaffolded, job-embedded training, are more likely to stay in the profession, benefiting students and improving overall educational outcomes,” Schweinle said.

The Teacher Fellows program is part of USD’s long-standing commitment to attract South Dakotans into the teaching profession. USD’s School of Education launched the Teacher Pathway program in 2018 with the Sioux Falls School District to provide high school students with a path to a college education and the teaching profession. Over 575 Sioux Falls students have gone through the program, with the first cohort of students graduating from USD in May 2023. Many of Teacher Pathway graduates have now been hired as teachers in the Sioux Falls School District for the 2023-2024 school year.

“We are extremely proud of our Teacher Pathway students, and we are looking forward to having the first cohort begin as teachers in the fall,” said Jamie Nold, Ed.D., assistant superintendent of the Sioux Falls School District. “The Teacher Fellows program is another excellent pathway for our diverse student population in Sioux Falls to grow into future teachers.”

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