Two JCS students observe a music class with students playing instruments

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Six students from Jefferson and Washington High Schools had the opportunity to observe JCS teachers in action as part of the second district cohort of the statewide Grow Your Own Program. Created by the West Virginia Department of Education for high school students interested in becoming K-12 educators, the program enables JCS juniors and seniors to fast-track their careers through dual enrollment courses at Shepherd University.

The Grow Your Own (GYO) Shadow Day took place on October 30 at Wright Denny Intermediate School (WDIS) as part of the cohort's Seminar in Education course at Shepherd University. Ian Hillman, JCS Director of Responsive Education, hoped it would be a rewarding experience for students as they observed current teachers in preparation for their future careers.

"We hope to instill values of collaboration, coaching, and feedback in our GYO students while allowing them to observe firsthand how our teachers prepare for, engage, and differentiate for our diverse learners," he said. "We're grateful to Principal Chris Walter and the Wright Denny staff for opening their classroom doors and helping mold our future teachers."

Jack Pearson, a Jefferson High School (JHS) senior and aspiring music teacher (pictured above with WHS junior Michael Taylor), said the Shadow Day experience provided insight that he plans to apply to his future practices as an educator.

"I think this will be helpful in the future," he said. "You can see what other teachers are doing that works and might work well for you, too."

Washington High School (WHS) senior Mason Harding was excited about the hands-on learning opportunity.

"I love it," he said, observing a P.E. class. "It's great seeing the kids running around, smiling, and having fun. That's what made me want to be a P.E. teacher when I was younger."

WHS junior Julie Fincham (above, r.) said she was happy to experience firsthand what life is like inside a classroom, having been raised by a JCS teacher. Fincham's mother, Amy Fincham, is a second-grade teacher at South Jefferson Elementary School.

"I've always wanted to be a teacher, so I'm excited to finally get in the field myself since I've grown up around it," said Fincham. "I love children and am excited to work with them in any way."

Emilee Sager, a senior at JHS (above, l.), said the experience allowed her to gain valuable insight into classroom management. 

"I think there are a lot of different ways you can handle classroom management, so getting to see how different teachers do it, how it works, and how different students respond is a big help."

Dr. Jason Allen, assistant professor of Education at Shepherd University, leads GYO students through their Seminar in Education course. He said GYO Shadow Day is a wonderful opportunity for students to understand the hard work and dedication it takes to become an educator.

"What we hope participating students discover is that being an educator offers personal and professional rewards that few employment fields can match."

The WVDE designed GYO to provide innovative, low-cost pathways into the teaching profession to offset the teacher shortages facing West Virginia. Dr. Allen said Education is a field in which many people have developed preconceived notions, and he hopes the program will help dispel some of those.

"Grow Your Own allows high school students to view myth versus reality," he said. "As it continues to 'take root,' we hope it will only expand in numbers."