Hill Country

Grant will help Hill Country districts "grow" their own teachers

MARBLE FALLS, Texas (KXAN) — When a new school year starts at Highland Lakes Elementary in Granite Shoals, Karina Palacio likes to share something with the students in her second grade class. 

"The very first day, I always tell them 'Oh, this was my school, and these were my halls,'" Palacio said. "They kind of light up, like, 'Wow, this was your school. You actually went here.' It's pretty cool."

Now the Marble Falls and Fredericksburg Independent School Districts are trying to get more of their students to follow in Palacio's footstops and return to their respective hometowns to teach. 

According to Palacio:

"There's a sort of investment that comes with you coming back and teaching at your own school. Because these are your people, your family, your community." 

The Marble Falls and Fredericksburg districts recently received a joint Grow Your Own grant worth approximately $161,000 from the Texas Education Agency.

With help from this two-year grant, Marble Falls ISD will add high school classes geared toward students who are aspiring teachers. The grant will also expand the district's involvement in a fast-track teaching program through Texas Tech. 

High schoolers can begin working toward an associate's degree through Central Texas College, then move into the Texas Tech's TechTeach program.

"They'll graduate within three years of graduating high school with a bachelor's degree, a teaching certificate and ready to go," said Dr. Wesley Cunningham, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Marble Falls ISD. 

Through this particular program, Marble Falls and Fredericksburg would like to get at least 12 more students to come back and eventually work as teachers for them. 

At Marble Falls ISD, administrators said it especially needs more special education teachers as well as those, like Palacio, who are bilingual. 

"The need for bilingual and ESL teachers here at our district is a high need. We have a high urgency right now," said Soor-el Puga, the director of bilingual and ESL programs. "We have a robust recruiting effort where we travel around the state, south Texas primarily, to try to get teachers to come to our community."

He and Bethany Birdwell note, however, there are advantages to having homegrown talent in the classrooms. 

"They get a great perspective on growing up in the school," said Birdwell, who works as principal at Highland Lakes Elementary. "They have great thoughts on how we can make our school better and add to the culture of our campus." 

Palacio accomplished one dream of teaching when she went to school at Marble Falls ISD, and now she's ready to see another become reality. She's looking forward to the day when one of her former students joins her as a coworker. 

"I want to be here and help it grow," she said. "And that's really exciting to me." 

The Grow Your Own grant will also provide support to paraprofessionals — like teachers' aides — already working at the districts who'd like to earn their teaching certifications. 

Marble Falls and Fredericksburg are just two of 36 applicants that receiving money through Grow Your Own grants. Del Valle and Elgin ISDs were also awarded grants. 

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