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EXPLORE Program Inspiring Students to Learn About the Teaching Profession

LANSING – The Future Proud Michigan Educator EXPLORE program is helping to inspire high school and middle school students to learn more about the teaching profession. The program has so far reached approximately 1,000 Michigan students, according to the Michigan Department of Education (MDE).

Over the last few years, powered increasingly by Grow Your Own efforts across Michigan, MDE, local school districts, intermediate school districts, teacher unions, and educator preparation programs have partnered in innovative ways to strengthen the teaching profession in support of Goal 7 of Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan: to increase the numbers of certified teachers in areas of shortage.

MDE has been strategic with its efforts to address the teacher shortage.

One strategy has been local EXPLORE programs, Grow Your Own programs for students who want to become teachers. EXPLORE programs are designed to expand accessible learning experiences to future educators in grades 6-12 to increase and diversify the educator workforce and reduce educator shortages.

At a recent conference of EXPLORE educators and students, State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice praised the efforts of program adopters for their foresight and commitment to building the teaching profession from the ground up.

“EXPLORE educators are changing the teaching profession,” Dr. Rice said. “Encouraging students with an interest in education to become teachers and providing them with opportunities to explore the profession are fundamental to strengthening and diversifying the profession in the long run.”

Selected by their administrators as outstanding, innovative professionals, EXPLORE educators build rapport with students to ensure expanded access to the profession. Supported by curricular resources and training from MDE, they also collaborate with colleagues to provide active learning opportunities and mentorship for EXPLORE students, who are encouraged to consider careers as educators.

MDE has used state and federal dollars to fund EXPLORE grants, which have been awarded to 60 local school districts and 15 intermediate school districts. Beginning as a pilot program in 2021, $1.1 million in federal Title II funds were awarded to the 44 original grantees who reported engaging more than 450 students across approximately 140 buildings. Since 2022, the grants are funded from the state School Aid Fund “Grow Your Own” grants.

EXPLORE grant funds have been used to:

  • provide professional learning for over 260 Michigan educators;
  • pay educators to collaboratively design courses that meet local needs;
  • provide future educator opportunities for secondary students during out-of-school time through after-school clubs and summer programs;
  • fund several trips to college campuses and promote a college-going culture;
  • engage and affirm a diverse set of students who may otherwise not consider the profession;
  • reduce the financial barriers associated with developing a new course, such as curricular planning, staff collaboration time, and student recruitment activities; and
  • develop free and open access curriculum that allows for face-to-face, hybrid and remote learning.  In cases where the district cannot develop a local course offering, MDE also created the Michigan Virtual EXPLORE course, which has enrolled 86 students since fall 2021.

The EXPLORE conference brought together EXPLORE educators, students, and school administrators to share successful strategies and programs to expand access to future educator programs, including flexible models to adapt to local structures to meet local needs; programming for younger students for early exposure to the profession and related course offerings; student recruitment activities and future educator signing days; and team-based course development that includes educators across multiple grade levels. The conference highlighted the importance of increasing and diversifying the educator workforce to improve public education and reduce educator shortages across the state.

Dr. Rice specifically noted that the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe is working to create sustainable pathways to teaching for indigenous students/staff; Grant Public Schools is growing bilingual educators to support its dual immersion program; and several grantees have partnered with Davenport’s Future Urban Stem Educators (FUSE) program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, to merge it with a new EXPLORE program.

Using EXPLORE funding, Kent Intermediate School District, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Lansing School District, and Kalamazoo Public Schools are specifically trying to engage students of color and other historically marginalized students. Holland Public Schools is working to ensure that its recruitment efforts result in a classroom diversity that matches the school diversity. Macomb Intermediate School District’s summer program was designed to bring greater access and equity to the future educator experiences in Macomb County, to allow students to work in their local school buildings as paid employees.

“Over the last six years, there has been a growth of 1,923 teachers of color, of whom 1,450 are Black/African American and 210 are Hispanic/Latino,” Dr. Rice reported to the conference. “In spite of this growth, 36% of Michigan students are students of color while only 10% of our teachers are teachers of color.

“In preparing students for participation in a diverse state, country, and world, students benefit from experiencing diversity among their teachers,” he said. “We are making progress, but we have more to make. EXPLORE programs will make a difference in this effort.”

The state legislature and Governor Gretchen Whitmer invested $575 million in fiscal year 2023 for a range of efforts to address the teacher shortage, many of these initially recommended by MDE to the governor and state legislature. Investments included but weren’t limited to $175 million for Grow Your Own programs for support staff to become teachers; $305 million for MI Future Educator Fellowships; and $50 million for MI Future Educator Student Teacher Stipends.

In the FY 2023 budget supplemental and the FY 2024 budget, additional funding to address the teacher shortage was designated for Talent Together ($76.3 million), a rural credentialing hub ($15 million), and teacher student loan repayment ($22.5