April and Jennifer Davis fell in love with education very early on, all thanks to their mother who homeschooled them during their elementary days. It was no surprise when both of them decided to pursue the career path at Cal State Bakersfield.

"I felt like if I could make kids love learning as much as my mom made me love learning, I definitely want to impact kids in that way," Jennifer Davis said.

As they got further in their studies, they decided to apply for a teacher residency program, where they completed a full year of co-teaching at various Bakersfield City School District sites. They were given the opportunity to interact with students in a high-need district and learn more than just classroom rules.

"Teaching them their own self-awareness and instilling the desire for a future that is greater than where they live. Teaching them to believe in themselves and letting them know struggle is OK," April Davis said.

"It’s one of the best life and career decisions I’ve ever made," Jennifer Davis added.

Other aspiring educators enrolled in CSUB residency programs can further their careers as well through a new scholarship opportunity.

CSUB is one of 13 CSUs to offer a new $10,000 Residency Year Scholarship to students who are dedicated to teaching in high-need and underserved school districts for two years. A total of 300 scholarships will be given out — up to 58 of which will come from CSUB, according to Kristina LaGue, Ph.D., Department of Teacher Education chair.

Students must be enrolled in a teacher residency program to be considered for this scholarship. The application deadline is Aug. 30.

The Kern Teacher Residency programs have transformed teacher preparation at CSUB since beginning five years ago. Teacher credential candidates in residency pathways are provided with tuition and a living stipend to complete yearlong, co-teaching clinical practice in high-need districts. Many of these districts are experiencing teacher shortages or are in low-income areas.

"Great teachers are needed everywhere, but our most vulnerable kids need the best prepared teachers," LaGue said.

Buttonwillow Union, Semitropic Elementary and Lamont school districts were the rural partners in the initial residency program that began in 2014. In 2016, the university received funding from the New Generation of Educators Initiative to launch the Kern Urban Teacher Residency Program with BCSD. In the past two years, the initiative has added partnerships with the Greenfield Union School District and the Kern High School District. 

Students enrolled in a residency program receive a $15,000 to $18,000 stipend per year. The new Residency Year Scholarship would provide an additional $10,000.

"Funding for education is everything," LaGue explained. "They’re supporting families. They can’t work or have a job during that year (of co-teaching)."

Teacher residents complete a full year of co-teaching in one of the districts the university has a program with, which later turns into the district they promise to teach in. The students work side-by-side with a mentor who is jointly selected by the district and university. They also complete course work at the school site.

"The quality of the mentors is so important," LaGue said. "We look for ones successful in building relationships. We want (residents) to be with them because they’ll end up with the same qualities as that person."

April and Jennifer Davis said they received a good mix of grade levels when they completed their residencies. April Davis taught fifth grade at Mt. Vernon Elementary School, second grade at Evergreen Elementary School and seventh grade math at Paul L. Cato Middle School. Jennifer Davis taught fourth grade at Fletcher Elementary School, eighth grade English at Sequoia Middle School and kindergarten at Casa Loma Elementary School.

The biggest takeaway for the sisters was how important it was for their mentors to build relationships with their students. 

"Their love and compassion shone through everything they did. The learning that came back from students was strong," April Davis said. "It’s such an amazing experience to be in a classroom where the teacher gives everything and they have the students return it."

"I took parts of each of my mentors with me so that I could implement the same relationship building in my own class," she added.

Jennifer Davis also noted many of the children in her classrooms came from low-income homes with single parents. Oftentimes parents did not want to spend time with children and they were "not getting the love they need."

"To build relationships and be a stable person in that person’s life is important," she said.

Both are now teachers at BCSD — April Davis teaches third grade at McKinley Elementary and Jennifer Davis teaches fifth grade at Casa Loma Elementary.

At the end of the spring 2019 semester, more than 160 credential candidates have participated in one of the residency pathways. Approximately 85 percent of the initial group of Kern Rural Teacher residents are still teaching in high-need schools in Kern County.

LaGue said there is a lot of responsibility to prepare and supply teachers who are ready to take on the educational needs of the community, but it is an important task. 

"If we’re not preparing teachers that are not the very best, what will happen to literacy and education rates that are already low?" she said. "We can be a solution to provide teachers with a high level of preparation."

For more information about teacher residency programs available at CSUB, visit www.csub.edu/sse/teacher_education/Teacher_Residency_Programs/index.html. To learn more about the Residency Year Scholarship, visit www2.calstate.edu/impact-of-the-csu/teacher-education/Pages/residency-year-scholarship.aspx.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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