The Midstate Student Support for Teaching Program (MSS), formerly known as Project Minority Student Support for Teaching, is a partnership designed to assist the Springfield and Decatur school systems in the recruitment of teachers by establishing an articulated teacher recruitment and preparation initiative beginning at the junior year of high school and continuing through certification at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Partners in this program represent three local educational institutions, the University of Illinois at Springfield, Lincoln Land Community College, Richland Community College and the two local school districts, Springfield School District 186 and Decatur School District 61.
The director, Dr. Loretta F. Meeks, has been with the program since its inception in 1992. Dr. Meeks has seen the program expand through several transitions into the current model. District 186 recognizes the Program as one of its primary recruitment initiatives. Members of each institution participate on the Steering Committee that reviews and develops program policy and the Advisory Committee that provides ongoing input into the Program activities and operating procedures.
There are three entry points available for students who are currently enrolled or recent high school graduates of the Springfield or Decatur School districts:
- the junior or senior year of high school;
- the first two years of college or community college or
- the junior year at UIS
Students apply to the program by submitting an application. Admission into the Program requires a minimum of a B grade point average and superior character determined by two letters of recommendation. In addition, a personal interview with the director may be required. Students who enter at the community college level must be admitted into the college, meet the minimum numbers of hours of coursework required by Project MSS as well as the grade point average requirement. Students entering or transferring at the UIS level must have passed the Basic Skills Test or Test of Academic Proficiency and been admitted into the Teacher Education Program (Effective Fall 2011). Candidates for the program are recruited from the participating school districts and expected to return to these districts for a minimum of two years after certification.
Participants enrolled in Project MSS are provided a series of planned activities and incentives to increase motivation to teach in the local area and aptitude for teaching. The program consists of academic assistance; mentoring; individual advising and counseling; workshops and professional development opportunities; cultural enrichment; service learning and a stipend each semester. Participants are involved in both professional and volunteer efforts supporting the education of children. Each participant provides a minimum of ten hours of service learning each semester (5 for high school students) or approximately 100 hours during the total period of enrollment. Records of student involvement and participation are analyzed using a database.
The Project has provided over 1000 hours of service to the Springfield and Decatur communities. The cohort has supported agencies such as the Springfield Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, YWCA, Sangamon Breadline, the Computer Banc, and St. John’s Children’s Hospital as well as local schools in the Springfield and Decatur communities.
Project MSS has graduated over thirty students-more than twenty from Springfield and 10 from Decatur. These numbers include 25 elementary majors and 7 secondary majors. Three of the 7 secondary majors are in secondary mathematics education. Each graduate successfully passed the Illinois Certification Test and had successful student teaching experiences. The average cumulative grade point average for the group is 3.2. Several graduates are pursuing graduate education.
MSS teaching candidates at UIS enroll in one of two Project courses: TEP 202: Teaching as Service or TEP 203: Designing Instruction. Students design and implement service-learning initiatives in each of these courses for either the Springfield or Decatur schools. The course introduces the students to the school district of employment through immersion into the culture of schooling in urban school districts.
Since 2009, Project MSS has received three annual scholarships through the Development Office at UIS. These include the Alfred and Melinda LaBarre Scholarship, Michah and Peggy Bartlett Scholarship, and the Betty and Ralph Hurwitz Scholarship. These scholarships have made it possible for deserving applicants to have access to the necessary academic and technological tools for learning.
The Expanded Undergraduate and Capitol Scholars Programs have increased the appeal of the program for high school and college recruits-primarily because of the inception of a younger student population. Younger students and their parents were also attracted to the extended housing opportunities for freshmen students. Other significant additions include competitive athletics as well as the overall growth of the campus.
Project MSS continues to promote the university’s commitment to public affairs in the midst of opportunities and challenges. It continues to be supported by partners with personnel and/or resources. The commitment to diversity continues to be a priority for each of the partners. It is evident in the strategic planning and mission of the university as well as the community colleges and school districts. Each institution is witnessing an increasingly diverse student population and is striving for inclusion at all levels of operation. Excellence through inclusion continues to be a major theme of the program.
Much has been learned and gained over the years. UIS continues to provide leadership and service to the community through the efforts of this most important initiative. Project MSS remains a viable and successful partnership for addressing the teacher shortage crisis in Springfield and Decatur.