Chandler, Ariz. – One recent Friday morning, Chandler Community Center's Room 205 was full of a new crop of University of Arizona students who were swapping life stories and studying how to measure and best assess student learning.
The class included new and soon-to-be parents, military veterans, mortgage holders, one former Peace Corp volunteer and a retired member of the U.S. Coast Guard.
They were taking the pre-session educational psychology course – their first as UA graduate students – being taught by UA faculty member Heidi Legg Burross offered through the Teach Arizona program.
The 13-month hybrid program, which has had a successful run in Tucson, is among several UA offerings expanding into the Phoenix-area beginning this month.
It was a defining moment for students who did not have the option of attending the UA's main campus or even studying at another institution in the state. Simply put, other options were not feasible whether financially, personally or logistically.
"It's hard to beat a 13-month master's program," said Rachel Mawson, who lives in San Tan Valley. Mawson said not only could she not find a comparable fast-track program in the state, but her house payment and high school softball coaching commitments make it difficult to uproot.
And so it was the UA's expansion into Chandler that attracted Mawson, and most others taking the course with Legg Burross, to pursue graduate studies in the Teach Arizona program.
When completed, students will have earned a master's degree and teacher certification and, like the other programs expanding into Chandler, it is part of an effort to ensure that more students across the state have access to University programs.
Expanded Offering, Broad Diversification
The UA partnered with the City of Chandler, enabling several programs to be offered in the city's downtown.
In addition to the teaching certification and master's degree program, other programs and courses also are being offered. They are: The Math & Science Teacher Education/Retention Industry Partnerships, or MASTER-IP, program; a foundational course being offered by School of Information Resources and Library Science, or SIRLS; the department of disability and psychoeducational studies' graduate education specialist program; and several Eller College of Management offerings.
"The City of Chandler and its staff have been very supportive of us and have done a wonderful job providing these facilities," said Kathleen Rutowski, who coordinates the Teach Arizona Chandler program.
Rutowski said the UA-Chandler partnership provides Phoenix-area residents opportunities to further their education and professional development in high-demand areas. She also noted that the personal and professional relationships developed among the students will support them in their studies and beyond their time at the UA.
For those taking Legg Burross's course in Chandler, 14 are in the Teach Arizona program and one is taking the course to complete a core requirement.
In the class, Legg Burross teaches ways to appropriately prepare students for standardized testing.
"It is important for teachers and counselors to have this basis so that they can asses the ever-important standardized test scores," Legg Burross said.
She also emphasized the importance of employing accurate measures of student learning and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, among other things.
"If you go in with high expectations for everyone, we grow to meet those expectations," she told the class, also teaching them different strategies on how to better engage students in participation and learning.
The students complete year-long clinical student teaching experiences and have been placed in nine school districts in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
The diverse representation of districts will enable students to share their experiences and build upon regional knowledge said Rutowski, also the internship and career development coordinator for the UA's teaching, learning and sociocultural studies department.
And the work is rigorous. The Teach Arizona program, for instance, delivers classes in a hybrid format – students complete course work online and also interact with the instructor and each other during periodic face-to-face meetings. In the three-week course Legg Burross is teaching, students average two to four chapters each day. Next session, the students will take a five-week course.
Teach Arizona student Charissa Jackson, who graduated from the University of Oregon last year earning degrees in Spanish and Latin American studies, said she took an interest in the program because she "wanted to get into teaching as soon as possible."
Jackson said she especially appreciates the structure of the program. During the pre-session course, students meet six times in person and spend the rest of the time meeting online where Legg Burross offers recorded lectures.
"It's nice to pause and takes notes, and I find that I am taking better notes then I ever have taken in a class," said Jackson, who wants to teach Spanish to high school students and specifically chose to study at the UA because of the expansion into Chandler.
After having meet online for several days, on their first official meeting in person, Legg Burross told the class that she was impressed with their progress.
"I know lots of you are working and that you are very busy," she said. "I am very impressed. It takes a lot of self regulation and speaks highly of your characters."
Legg Burross also works with Teach Arizona students in Tucson. Currently, 55 students are enrolled in the program, which encompasses all secondary programs within the UA College of Education.
"The Teach Arizona students are some of the most impressive students I have ever worked with," Legg Burross said.
"I feel very honored to be working with this program. We're working to get more quality teachers working in the state," she also said. "I am very excited about the program and partnership."
The Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream
Teach Arizona students have earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Arizona and elsewhere in political science, English literature, Spanish, physics, biology and human biology, international studies, mathematics and other disciplines.
For example, Mawson began her general studies at Southern Virginia University, where she also played on the softball team, before transferring to Arizona State University where she earned a mathematics degree. Then she heard about the UA-Chandler program.
"I always wanted to go to the UA. The UA has a better reputation and a better price," said Mawson, whose brother, Riley Mawson, is pursuing a UA degree in biomedical engineering.
"It's a lot of work," Mawson said, noting the rigor required to complete course requirements, "but it's worth it."
Fellow Teach Arizona student Charles Sanders said he also had long desired to pursue his studies at the UA, but was not able to do so until now.
"I always wanted to become a teacher, but when I was younger I became timid and scared. Lots of teachers were being laid off," Sanders said.
Instead, he earned his political science degree from Arizona State University, spent three years in the U.S. Army, started a family and bought a home.
But after spending time serving as a electrical engineering consultant, he signed up for the Teach Arizona program.
"I felt I had a calling," said Sanders, father to a 14-month-old daughter.
Sanders said he chose Teach Arizona for several reasons: The UA and Tucson program both have a strong reputation across the state and the UA proved to be the only viable choice.
"I have a wife, a daughter and a mortgage. I cannot move," Sander said. "And this is my first time in a hybrid program, but I think it will work out well. I am feeling very positive about it."