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Middle school students at Summit Denali work with a teacher in a small group. Credit: Nichole Dobo/The Hechinger Report

A California-born charter school network is starting a new program to home-grow teachers rooted in their approach to education.

Summit Public Schools – widely known for its partnership with Facebook to develop a flexible academic program that allows teachers and students to work on custom-fit lessons at their own pace – will soon begin certifying teachers. It’s being branded as the nation’s first teacher residency focused on personalized learning.

“Implicit in this is we can improve student outcomes if teachers are already trained before they start full-time teaching,” said Pamela Lamcke, director of the Summit teacher learning residency.

The first group of 24 teaching residents will begin work this month on eight campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area. The one-year program, which has been approved to certify teachers in the state of California only, has several goals, including increasing the number of teachers who are able to work in a personalized learning environment and improving teacher retention. One of the challenges Summit has faced is teacher turnover.

The residents will spend four days a week in classrooms with cooperating teachers, doing just about everything a working teacher does during the school day. This will immerse them in more than just core classes and instruction. They will participate in faculty meetings, family communication and intervention activities. The residency will ensure that what the teaching residents learn in theory courses will be connected to what they are seeing in the classroom. And the teaching residents will be doing their coursework for the teaching certificate using personalized learning, as well, so they can experience this style of instruction as students themselves.

More than half of the 24 aspiring teachers are people of color. The first year is tuition-free for the teaching residents (thanks to a grant from a philanthropy), who will take courses at Summit and participate in all parts of the school day. The price for future years has not yet been determined.

Among the first teaching residents is Janine Peñafort, herself a graduate of Summit Public Schools. She has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish, and worked as a tutor last year in Summit schools. A Filipina, she said she never had a Filipino teacher when she was in school. Last year, when she worked as a tutor, she received a note from a student saying how nice it was to have another Filipino on campus.

“I think it’s important for students to see someone who can identify with them and holds the same cultural values,” she said.

Peñafort, a first-generation college graduate, said she believes that personalized learning will help students become more independent. One of the biggest challenges she faced in college, she said, was figuring out what to do and where to go when a teacher or professor wasn’t directly instructing.

“I want to help students learn to search for information and to be more critical thinkers,” she said.

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