GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent ISD program is working to help address the teacher shortage by providing students with training and classroom experience while in high school.

Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist visited the district on Monday to learn about the program and discuss education funding.

The Teacher Academy has graduated 22 students, with 20 of the graduates planning to pursue becoming a teacher.

Laura Castle, the instructor who oversees the program, said they have already seen the impact the program can have.

“This is only our second year, so we started last year with a group of 11th and 12th graders. We had 36 students and this year we’re serving 75,” Castle said. 

Selena Pablo-Ramirez is a student in the program. Her mother was a teacher but she credits the academy for helping her decide to major in education when she goes to college.

“I really wanted to try it out because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a teacher or not,” Pablo-Ramirez said. “I didn’t know that we were going to be able to work with students one-on-one at first. I just thought like they’re going to teach us the basics and we go on. They put us in the classroom and you learn so much working with little kids and then they teach you so much.”

The program brought the lieutenant governor to speak with students, administrators and graduates.

“What we’re going to see from this program specifically and programs like this is a whole new swath of young people understanding that being an education professional is a choice they can make and it’s something that’s attractive to them,” Gilchrist said.

Superintendent Ron Koehler said all districts in Kent County are facing challenges in hiring teachers and is proud of the success the program has made so far.

“Kent ISD is here to help all of the school districts in the region solve the problems that they face,” Koehler said. “We have our own challenges but we’re here to help create more opportunity for students and to create a better working environment.”

For more information on the program, visit the Kent ISD Tech Center website.