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The St. Joseph School District may look at opportunities to foster the idea of teaching careers in current students. Eighth grade is a target demographic for the 'Grow Your Own' initiative.

The St. Joseph School District is hoping to push teaching as a more viable career opportunity to its students with the “Grow Your Own” initiative.

The program involves developing a talent-retention model at a local level, identifying students in middle and high school who may be interested in becoming teachers. Through partnerships with universities and business partners in the community, these students could apply for scholarships and grants to offset college expenses in return for coming back to the school district for a certain number of years after graduation.

The model is not unique to St. Joseph. Many other districts in the state have initiated such a program.

“It typically targets those high-need, hard-to-fill areas like science, mathematics and special education,” Marlie Williams, the assistant superintendent of academic and education services with the St. Joseph School District, said. “And we look for educators who would be willing to stay in our community and retain that talent that we have locally.”

District staff have had initial conversations with officials at Missouri Western State University as well as other business partners in the community to help support such an initiative, which could launch toward the beginning of next year.

Businesses can help provide toward tuition of the student who would be in contact with a member of the district throughout his or her college years.

Williams said other “Grow Your Own” models include the ability for selected students to work as substitutes and give them the ability to participate in professional development opportunities locally. Younger students, such as eighth-graders, could even make use of summer school opportunities, such as monitoring the cafeteria or playground during school hours for pay.

“In addition to that, we want to look at our current adult workforce,” Williams said. “So do we have paraprofessionals? Do we have professional support staff that have a degree that is not in an area of education who may want to become teachers, or maybe they have some college completed and they want to complete a degree in education? All of those groups are included in the conversations we're having about ‘Grow Your Own’ right now.”

The initiative mimics that of the Fast Track Workforce Initiative Grant, a state financial aid program designed for adults 25 and older or individuals who have not enrolled in a school within the past two years. Should those students complete their desired education, they must maintain a Missouri residency and work in the state for three years following graduation.

And while some partnerships with businesses directly benefit those organizations by supplying them with workers upon a student’s graduation, Williams said a big-picture approach of supplying teachers to strengthen the district is a definite draw.

“A strong school district is a point of attraction for employees, for all of our major businesses and industry in the community,” she said. “So their interest in a strong school district is significant, and I think that helps us with the conversations about partnership.”

Daniel Cobb can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowCobb.