A picture of high school students walking down a school hallway between classes.

A Kentucky school district is starting a new program that will be a national model for communities looking to address their teacher shortage.

Nelson County Schools is partnering with Western Kentucky University (WKU) to create a K-12 teacher apprenticeship program through the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) youth apprenticeship model.

“Our country needs to seek new, innovative solutions to solve the teacher shortage and I’m proud to see Kentucky leading the way with the apprenticeship program in Nelson County,” said Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass. “Putting students on the fast track to becoming teachers will bolster our educator workforce and stand as an example for what other states can do to fill their needs.”

Kentucky is embarking into uncharted territory with growing its own educators through registered apprenticeship and secondary students enrolled in the teaching and learning pathway.

“We congratulate Nelson County Schools on winning state and federal approval for an innovative apprenticeship,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “It is a win for our state as we expand our homegrown pool of teachers and a win for students who continue earning a college degree while being able to start their teaching career two years earlier.”

The model incorporates 2.5 hours daily of place-based and experiential learning students may enter as early as 9th grade. During their four-year high school career, students participate in dual-credit enrollment through Elizabethtown Community and Technical College and WKU to attain 59 hours of college credit, thus meeting post-secondary general education requirements as well as 24 hours toward teacher certification.

The paid youth apprenticeship will start in the student’s junior or senior year. Upon graduation, the student apprentices will continue to be a paid employee of Nelson County Schools and enrolled at WKU to complete the remaining 61 hours toward a bachelor’s degree.

Students remain in the Nelson County community throughout the college experience. At the conclusion of the two-year student-teaching style experience, students attain their bachelor’s degree and Kentucky teacher certification, completing a total of 6,000 hours of coursework and on-the-job training.

“This new apprenticeship program, providing a streamlined, faster pathway for high school students to become a teacher, is an excellent workforce tool that is a first for our state and a model for the nation,” said Education and Labor Cabinet Secretary Jamie Link. “It positions Kentucky as a leader in addressing the critical teacher shortage throughout our country.”

Anyone who has an associate degree may also apply and begin working for the district as an apprentice while completing education coursework and on-the-job training. 

Another district in Kentucky, Grayson County Schools, piloted an education technician apprenticeship three years ago with the intention of growing their own teachers and have begun working with WKU to create the same pipeline and attaining credit for prior learning through their family and consumer science pathway. 

First piloted in 2013, TRACK is a partnership between the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education and the Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet’s Office of Employer and Apprenticeship Services to accelerate high school students in career pathways into registered apprenticeship opportunities by on-the-job training and granting credit for prior learning through career and technical education courses.