The Florida Department of Education gave SFSC the final stamp of approval for its new bachelor in elementary education degree.

The move paves the way for SFSC’s first graduating class in May 2016 to earn teacher certification with endorsements in ESOL, or English for speakers of other languages, and reading, a move that will boost its employment prospects.

With a state-declared shortage of teachers holding certification and endorsement in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and reading, SFSC’s elementary education program positions itself as the only teacher preparation program in the region whose students will graduate with the endorsements and ready to take the certification examination.

Jessica Young Cathy Futral

Jessica Young, a student in the bachelor of science in elementary education (BSEE), gets a lesson in art education for kids from Cathy Futral, professor of art.

“The ESOL and reading endorsements students earn by completing our program will put them at a tremendous competitive advantage in the job market,” said Michele DeVane, professor education, who heads up SFSC’s elementary education program. “These are the endorsements that schools really want from new hires.”

The state’s final approval comes come nearly two years after giving SFSC the green light to launch the new bachelor’s degree program.

In 2013, SFSC saw a need to train teachers to fill slots in elementary schools opened up by retires and enrollment growth. After getting the go-ahead from Tallahassee to add the degree program, SFSC enrolled its first class of 12 students in 2014 fall term.

The inaugural class already had associate degrees under its belt. In addition, the students had completed a three-course sequence applicants must pass before SFSC will accept them.

“We are thrilled at the progress our first class has made as they enter their final year of coursework,” DeVane said. “Come January, they will start their full-time internships in classrooms working alongside teachers to satisfy a state-mandated requirement for real-world experience.”

The state’s initial approval, and the enrollment of the first class, proved to be just the beginning of the approval process. Next, SFSC had to get the okay of the regional accreditation body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

After an on-site review in June by a team from the Decatur, Ga.-based group, SFSC’s received news that the new program met all the standards without any recommendations for further improvement.

“Zero recommendations,” said Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel, in response to the accreditation report. “That’s a major achievement for our college.”

Completing the course work and graduating in May, won’t mark the end of the process for the inaugural class. The students must complete two certification exams.

“I am confident our graduates will have jobs come the start of the next school year,” DeVane said.

SFSC will enroll its next class in August 2016. DeVane said now is the time for folks interested in a teaching career to start the application process.

Applicants to the elementary education program must have completed their associate degree or higher. The state also requires applicants to pass a test of general knowledge before they enroll in the program.

Before gaining final acceptance, applicants must pass three introductory courses designed to introduce students to the foundations of a teaching career. Students can take the courses online during any term.

DeVane encourages those looking at a teaching career to visit the program’s website.

The ESOL and reading endorsements were built into the program’s curriculum, they are not optional for students, DeVane said.

The Florida Department of Education’s latest report on critical teacher shortages shows a need for more teachers qualified in math, science, reading, and ESOL.

DeVane noted that many teacher education programs do not mandate their students attain endorsements in these key areas, putting them at a disadvantage.

What’s more, she said, students in programs without the state approval SFSC now has must jump through an extra hurdle when they apply for certification. They have to demonstrate to the state their course work meets statutory criteria, a step not required of SFSC graduates.

“We are a new program but one that has proven to be of high quality,” said DeVane. “At the same time we are small, so students get a lot of individual attention.”

“They don’t get that elsewhere,” said DeVane.

For more information about SFSC’s bachelor in elementary education visit www.southflorida.edu/current-students/degrees-programs/academics/education. Or, call Michele DeVane at 863-784-7154.