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 licensure 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 1990. Dr. Meeks has seen the program expand through several transitions into the current model. District 186 now recognizes it as one of its primary recruitment initiatives. Members of each institution participate on the Steering Committee that reviews and develops program policy.
There are three entry points for Project MSS. Students may enter during the junior or senior year of high school; the first two years of college or community college or the junior year at the UIS. Students apply to the program by submitting an application. Admission to the Program requires a minimum of a C+ or 2.75 grade point average (on a 4-point scale) and superior character determined by two letters of recommendation. In addition, a personal interview with the director may be required. Students entering at the UIS level must have passed the Basic Skills Test or Test of Academic Proficiency and been admitted into a program in the Department of Teacher Education. After licensure, teaching candidates are expected to return to the participating school district for a minimum of two years.
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; individual advising and counseling; monthly seminars and workshops; service learning and a stipend each semester. Participants are involved in both professional and volunteer efforts supporting the education of children. Each must be involved in a minimum of ten hours of service learning each semester. Records of student involvement and participation are analyzed using a database.
In the past two years, the Project has provided over 500 hours of service to the Springfield and Decatur communities. The cohort has supported agencies such as the Lawrence Adult Center, the YMCA and the Springfield Boys and Girls Club. Students at each level participate annually to the “Make a Difference” volunteer initiative at UIS.
Project MSS has graduated over twenty students. At the end of the 2007 term, that number is projected to increase to 30. Nine or 39% of the graduates are male and 14 or approximately 60% are female. The distinction between the numbers of elementary and secondary majors is also fairly close, 13 elementary majors and 10 secondary majors. Two of the 10 secondary majors are in secondary mathematics education. Each graduate successfully passed the Illinois licensure Test and completed student teaching successfully. The average cumulative grade point average for the group is 3.2. Five graduates have pursued additional education, now with graduate degrees-two from the University of Illinois system.
Currently, Project MSS has twenty-one students enrolled at UIS; twenty at the community college level and twenty-five at the high school level. The number fluctuates during the semesters due to stop-outs and drop-outs. Since the initiation of the two courses, TEP 202 and TEP 203, the numbers have stabilized significantly. In the courses, TEP 202: Teaching as Service and TEP 203: Designing Instruction, students design and implement service-learning initiatives for either the Springfield or Decatur schools.
The capstone activity that involves each of the three levels of the program is the Summer Conference. Incoming students are inducted into the Program at the conference. In addition, representatives from each of the participating institutions provide workshops and seminars addressing the annual theme. This year’s theme “Winning Through Overcoming” focused on retention strategies for students who are experiencing difficulties meeting admission standards. Workshops were designed to address deficiencies in grade point average; professional assessments; dispositions; and prerequisite coursework.
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.
The challenges experienced by Project MSS are in some ways similar to those confronted by other initiatives at the university. State appropriations to the university have limited the funding levels of several programs. The budget for Project MSS did not increase at the same rate of student participation–three levels of students are currently being served with funding less than originally allocated to one level. The director holds a part-time assignment with a staff of a part-time secretary and a graduate assistant, a position that is reassigned every two years. With project staffing located at UIS, visibility and outreach continues to impact recruitment efforts. In addition, the number of state-level assessments for teaching has increased causing a decline in the number of students eligible for admission into Teacher Education. Many of these ineligible students are minorities. Another challenge is the coordination of full-time student employment with service-learning opportunities.
Project MSS continues to promote the university’s commitment to public affairs in the midst of opportunities and challenges that are financial and programmatic. 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.
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.