FAIRMONT, W.Va. – On Wednesday, the West Virginia Department of Education officials announced they will offer a new program for students to get college-level credits while still in high school.  

The “Grow Your Own” teacher preparation program will allow participating counties to pair with higher education institutions for college-level courses.  

Twenty-one counties have already signed up for the pilot program including Marion County and Taylor County schools.  The goal of the program is for students to enter college with a minimum of 22 credit hours for a low-cost jump start to their career.  

“With this pilot, I think that it will be a wonderful opportunity for us to raise awareness of the many careers that are available to our students. It’s something that we are passionate about in Marion County schools, and we’ve been working to make them aware of a number of opportunities that are viable for them, are good-paying jobs and are an opportunity for them to give back,” said Marion County Schools Superintendent Donna Hage. 

Getting students interested in education and assisting them in earning a degree also helps combat West Virginia’s teacher shortage in the long run.  

“Those of us in smaller counties often times are the ones that suffer with those shortages, and this is an opportunity for us to be able to look at our students and say ‘hey if you start this program, this is a way we can support you in the beginning and you’re going to be able to then understand what those requirements are to finish, and hopefully by the time you are finished, we will have those openings where you can come back home and you can actually teach in the school that you were a part of,’” Taylor County Schools Superintendent Christine Miller said. 

Miller said it will also help students develop relationships before college. 

“Oftentimes what we find is students don’t go with a lot of confidence to college, as far as knowing how to navigate the other things around getting those required credits to get to the college degree. So I think the most important piece is being able to develop quality relationships that will support them as they do matriculate to the finish of the degree,” Miller said.  

Both schools plan to pair with Fairmont State University in the program.  

“To be able to continue professional development opportunities, reflection opportunities, practical experience for those perusing the teaching profession and to solidify and even stronger relationship with Fairmont State University that’s very exciting for us as well in Marion County Schools,” Hage said.

The first state-level meeting with all of the counties that are interested in the pilot of the program will be in March. 

Other counties that will participate in the program are, Berkeley, Braxton, Cabell, Calhoun, Fayette, Greenbrier, Jefferson, Kanawha, Lewis, McDowell, Mingo, Monroe, Nicholas, Ohio, Pocahontas, Putnam, Summers, Upshur and Wayne. 

Along with the new program the WVDE also released a new website to help students learn more about earning a teaching certificate and degree.