For the Tribune
Melissa Smith, originally from Beautancus, is a freshman at Mount Olive University and one of 12 students enrolled in the university’s Homegrown Teacher Academy.
Funded by grants from the William R. Kenan Charitable Trust and other contributors, the academy is an innovative and collaborative program involving Duplin County Schools, James Sprunt Community College and UMO.
The academy is designed to identify and recruit students starting in college with the Duplin County school system who would be interested in becoming teachers.
“The best prospect for rural school districts to attract and retain teachers is to train their own future educators and that is exactly what the HGTA does,” said Dr Tommy Benson, associate professor of education at the ‘UMO.
âThis program is truly one of a kind and presents an incredible opportunity for Duplin County and its students. “
Students can observe teachers while in high school, earn college credit while still in high school through JSCC, and earn their teacher education diploma at UMO. Students receive funding to offset the cost of college education, thereby minimizing the amount of student debt incurred.
In return, academy graduates pledge to work in Duplin County schools.
âThis scholarship has meant a lot to me because it provides financial relief for my parents,â said Smith. âHGTA feels like a family supporting me to be successful in my classes. “
Smith is no stranger to UMO.
Her parents Tim and Lynn Smith are alumni.
Smith’s mother and uncle are teachers.
A graduate of North Duplin Junior-Senior High School, Smith aspires to follow in their footsteps by becoming a high school social studies teacher when she graduates.
âI want to be a positive role model for my students, to show them love, kindness and allow them to see the different opportunities that Duplin County has to offer,â Smith said.
Smith volunteers with the Bridge Church of Mount Olive, works in the UMO admissions office, and is part of the UMO Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
She quickly recognizes her own model.
âMs. Dupree was my most inspiring teacher growing up because she showed me that hard work and kindness goes a long way,â Smith said. âFor me, those successful attributes are being professional, to hold on, to be understanding and to have a good heart. “
Discussing positive teaching styles is one of the topics Smith and other HGTA students reflect on during their mandatory weekly meetings.
They also discuss ways to promote HGTA, coordinate and implement service projects, and discuss barriers and opportunities within the Duplin County school system with the goal of brainstorming creative solutions.
âOne of the goals of Homegrown Teacher Academy is to make these students not only better teachers, but also better citizens,â said Gail Herring, assistant professor of education at UMO.
Applications are currently being accepted for the 2021-2022 UMO Homegrown Teacher Academy with scholarships ranging from $ 3,000 to $ 6,000 per year.
âThere are other scholarship opportunities available for Duplin County students that make earning an education degree from UMO both affordable and achievable,â Herring said.