Proposed program would help meet local need for teachers  

Lorena Trejo

Lorena Trejo, a teacher at Graham Mesa Elementary in Rifle, earned an associate degree from CMC, then transferred to the University of Northern Colorado to earn her bachelor’s degree in education. A proposed new bachelor’s degree at Colorado Mountain College would allow students to complete an experience-intensive education locally.

Students hoping to pursue careers in elementary education may soon be able to earn a bachelor’s degree at one of two Colorado Mountain College locations – Glenwood Springs or Edwards.

The prospective Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies (BAIS), with an initial focus on elementary teacher preparation, is now being considered for approval by the college’s accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission.

This is the last in a long series of approvals CMC has sought for this and two additional new bachelor’s degrees. After undergoing internal approvals, the college recently received a green light for the BAIS from the Colorado Department of Higher Education and the Colorado Department of Education. Also recently approved by the CDHE and going through the HLC approval process is a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a Bachelor of Applied Science.

“We’re just one step away from making it possible for local students to help fill the need for exceptional teachers in our local school districts,” said Dr. Barbara Johnson, director of teacher education at CMC.

The college’s current teaching preparation program allows students to earn an Associate of Arts in elementary education, but requires them to transfer to one of several partner schools in Colorado to complete a bachelor’s degree. If the new bachelor’s degree is approved, it would allow students to earn four-year degrees in elementary education entirely at Colorado Mountain College.

Students can enroll now in the freshman- and sophomore-level courses that will be required in the bachelor’s program, and CMC anticipates that Higher Learning Commission review will be completed during the 2014 calendar year. With approval, the college could then offer junior-level courses beginning in 2015.

Lorena Trejo, who earned an associate degree from CMC, transferred to earn her bachelor’s and is now a teacher at Graham Mesa Elementary in Rifle, explained how important a local option is for many would-be teachers. “I graduated with honors from CMC, and then headed to UNC to finish my program,” she said. “It was hard. A lot of people have families and can’t travel out of town to make their dreams come true.”

Proposed program would fill need for homegrown, well-trained teachers

Both national and state employment projections highlight the need for increasing numbers of teachers at the elementary school level to serve a growing population, especially in Garfield and Eagle counties. “CMC’s program would cultivate the area’s local talent and help outstanding teacher candidates stay in the communities they love,” said Dr. Brad Tyndall, vice president for academic affairs at Colorado Mountain College.

In designing the proposed program, the college worked closely with school leaders from the Eagle County School District, as well two of the school districts in Garfield County, RE-1 and Re-2. Through surveys and interviews with school administrators throughout the entire CMC district, said Johnson, the college learned that not only do the K-12 districts have a growing demand for teachers with local ties, what they really seek is to hire graduates who have significant classroom experience and who are prepared to serve the rich diversity of children in local communities.

“This program is good for our region, our schools and our kids,” said Dr. Jason Glass, superintendent of Eagle County schools. “I’m proud that our district supports this vitally important endeavor.”

Students would spend more time gaining classroom experience

One important distinction for CMC’s proposed degree in elementary education is the emphasis on experiential learning for teaching candidates. “Too often in the past, students wouldn’t set foot in the classroom until their final year of teacher training,” said Johnson.

Colorado Mountain College is proposing a degree that would fully integrate the Colorado Department of Education’s call for teachers with more clinical preparation. The bachelor’s students would be required to complete more than 1,200 field hours over the course of their program, and these classroom experiences are designed to begin during their first year of study.

“This integration of hands-on, experiential learning will help students to develop the skills of classroom teaching early in the process, as these skills take time to develop,” said Johnson. “And if some of our prospective teachers decide that the classroom is not for them, they will be able to adjust their plans before the end of a four-year investment of their time.”

Another feature of the proposed degree is an emphasis on culturally and linguistically diverse education. In Colorado, classrooms increasingly integrate students from a variety of backgrounds into a culture of learning. While the BAIS doesn’t require fluency in a specific foreign language, it cultivates the skills of working with English language learners and fosters the competencies that will help teachers reach students with diverse linguistic and cultural roots, said Johnson.

Research led to bill allowing CMC to introduce bachelor’s degrees

Just over three years ago, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed the bill to allow Colorado Mountain College to offer up to five bachelor’s degrees. The bill was a result of extensive research the college conducted, showing unmet demand from employers and students in north-central Colorado.

“There was no physical location where our local residents could earn a bachelor’s degree within our service area, which is the size of the state of Maryland,” said Dr. Brad Tyndall, the college’s vice president of academic affairs.

If approved, the degree in elementary education and culturally and linguistically diverse education would be the third approved bachelor’s degree at the college. CMC currently offers four-year degrees in business administration and sustainability studies, and saw its first bachelor’s graduates in the spring of 2013.

“The benefits of the proposed elementary education bachelor’s program are many,” said Johnson. “Most importantly, if the degree is approved, students will be able to study in the communities they love while earning a valuable degree at a reasonable cost. Our schools will benefit from teachers who are prepared in close collaboration with the schools, and our children will benefit from having truly excellent teachers who stay in the community.”