To combat the state-wide teacher shortage, Kentucky counties have started Grow-Your -Own teacher programs that recruit and train individuals looking to become teacher certified who are already connected to Kentucky schools and communities.
Last year, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) announced that 10 districts would receive a Grow-Your-Own (GYO) program grant of $50,000. Owensboro Independent was one of these districts and has since seen great success with its Grow-Your-Own-Staff (GYOS) program. While many GYO programs look to find students interested in pursuing teaching degrees, Owensboro’s program focuses on individuals already employed at their schools.
The GYOS scholarships provide financial relief for classified staff members looking to return to school in order to earn their teacher certification. The scholarship ensures that Western Kentucky University (WKU), the district and the scholarship recipient would each be responsible for a third of the tuition.
Initially, there was only enough grant money to accept five applicants into the GYOS program, but additional funding from the Hager Foundation and the Marylin and William Young Foundation allowed the district to finance an additional two spots.
Last year, seven Owensboro staff members were chosen for the GYOS scholarship, six of whom will be returning this year as certified teachers. One of those selected was Erin Bailes.
Bailes began her career in wealth management and financial planning, and while she loved the people she worked with, she did not find passion in that position. After she and her family relocated, she decided to start working as a substitute teacher at her kids’ elementary school. She spent 18 months in the classroom and found that watching her “students grow and flourish” solidified her love for the profession.
Bailes was excited to start pursuing alternative routes of certification, but due to the pandemic, she had to put these plans on hold. She ended up working as an assistant in a kindergarten classroom at Newton Parrish Elementary for two years.
“In the spring of 2021, Mr. David Phillips told me about the Grow-Your-Own scholarship, and I started looking into programs. Receiving the Grow-Your-Own scholarship made my dream of going back to school financially attainable,” she said.
Bailes began pursuing her master’s degree in teaching at WKU in the fall of 2021 and is looking forward to being a 5th-grade English language arts teacher at Newton Parrish Elementary (Owensboro Independent).
“I have had a whole career before this. I now have a family. At the time, I only had two kids, but now I have a third new baby, and so paying for grad school was not out of the question but would be a total stretch,” she said. “Receiving this scholarship has just opened the door so wide. I have been so thankful.”
Another recipient of the scholarship was Meaghan Glenn, who started her career in event planning. Although she enjoyed her work, its schedule was not conducive to her life and did not allow time for her to prioritize her family.
Glenn desired a position that would serve her better in the long term. She was inspired by her sister, who teaches at an elementary school, and decided to apply for an assistant teacher position. Like Bailes, she quickly fell in love with the role.
“It has been so rewarding to build relationships with these kids. Just to be there for them and be their advocate, someone who is a constant for them, is extremely rewarding for me and is the reason why I love teaching so much,” she said. “The schedule is great and having insurance and benefits is cool, but the kids are what makes the job meaningful to me.”
Glenn now works as an elementary school teacher at Foust Elementary School (Owensboro Independent).
Along with Bailes and Glenn, five other educators’ lives have changed due to the financial support from the Grow-Your-Own-Staff program in Owensboro. Programs like these are helping Kentucky teachers find their passion and make teaching a feasible reality for individuals who otherwise may not have had the opportunity or resources.