FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, ADELE UPHAUS
James Monroe High School is just over the border of U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s legislative district, but when she learned about the Fredericksburg school’s Teachers Academy from Principal Tim Duffy at a meeting of the National Principal’s Association late last month, she made plans to visit.
“I’ve visited a lot of CTE programs, but this one sounded so unique and exciting,” Spanberger said during an interview at the high school Monday afternoon.
During her visit, Spanberger heard from Duffy and several of the Teachers Academy’s facilitators, as well as students in the program. The academy is designed to attract high school students to careers in teaching through a special curriculum and hands-on experience.
James Monroe’s Fredericksburg Teachers Academy, which is in its first year, is a program of the statewide Teachers for Tomorrow initiative, explained Tristin Fidler, supervisor of teacher quality for the city school district.
“It is something that, for years, we have wanted for the school system,” Fidler said. “We spent all of last year planning for it.”
Stafford and Spotsylvania public schools have similar teacher-training programs.
Before visiting James Monroe, Spanberger, a Democrat whose district includes Spotsylvania, toured the Spotsylvania County Public Schools Career and Tech Center, where she spoke with instructors in the auto service, cosmetology, dental assisting, electricity, JROTC, masonry and medical assisting classrooms.
Spanberger also visited Courtland High School to see the school’s award-winning architectural design for K-12 learning environments.
At James Monroe, Fidler said the Fredericksburg Teachers Academy is a “grow-your-own” program.
“It caters to students with an interest in teaching in the hopes that they come back and teach for us,” Fidler said. “If they apply, they are guaranteed an interview and if they are hired, they get a signing bonus.”
Admission to the program is by application, and there are 19 juniors and seniors—including three male students—in this year’s Teachers Academy.
Instructor Kristyn James–Fox uses a curriculum designed by Shenandoah University, where students in the academy are also enrolled. Upon graduation, they receive three college credits. In addition to coursework and discussion, Teachers Academy students also must complete observation and field experience hours.
Students told Spanberger about their experiences watching and working with preschool and elementary classes in city schools—experiences that many said solidified their plans to pursue careers in teaching.
Junior Olivia Adams described how thrilling it has been for her to watch a 3-year-old in a preschool special education program progress at drawing circles. She said that because of this experience, she now would consider going into special education—something she never thought she would do.
Spanberger said she was struck by the enthusiasm and excitement the students showed when talking about their field experience hours.
“It’s amazing to see programs like this,” she told the students. “Our country is only as strong as our ability to educate the next generation.”
Spanberger said the country can better support teachers by better understanding what they do—something programs like Teachers for Tomorrow and the Fredericksburg Teachers Academy are asking high school students to think about.
She said she is also working on several pieces of legislation focused on education and CTE, including one that would allow college students to use their work-study dollars by teaching at local Head Start programs.
Spanberger said the skills developed by teaching will also translate to other areas of public service.
“I hope that your focus on young people and teaching leads you to the classroom and then also to civic engagement—whether as a school board member, city council member or member of Congress,” she told the students.