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Teacher cadets get a taste of future career in Willmar Schools

Erica Dischino / Tribune Christina Kurhajetz, Family and Consumer Science teacher, is overseeing the teacher cadet program at Willmar Senior High School. The new program allows high school students to gain teaching experience at local elementary schools and Willmar Middle School. 1 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Paige Urban, center, helps students in Kaylee Jahraus’s second-grade classroom at Roosevelt Elementary in Willmar. Urban is a part of Willmar Senior High School’s teaching cadet program, which allows high school students to have teaching experience at local elementary schools and Willmar Middle School. 2 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Senior High School student Maddie Thaden, right, helps seventh-grade student Vayleen Valdez during her communications class Nov. 28 at Willmar Middle School. Thaden is a part of Willmar Senior High School’s teaching cadet program, which allows high school students to have teaching experience at local elementary schools and Willmar Middle School. 3 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Students who are part of the teaching cadet program at Willmar Senior High School receive reading materials and exercises to understand teaching preparation work and creating curriculum. 4 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Second-grade teacher Kaylee Jahraus, from left, and teacher cadet Paige Urban assist students with a winter art project Nov. 28 at Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar. 5 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune High school seniors Jenna Stauffenecker, left, and Moira Revier discuss how the teacher cadet program shaped their interest in teaching. The new program at Willmar Senior High School allows the students to get a taste of teaching experience at local elementary schools and Willmar Middle School. 6 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Second-grade teacher Kaylee Jahraus, left, teaches while teacher cadet Paige Urban observes the classroom Nov. 28 at Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar. Urban, a Willmar Senior High School student, is helping with Kaylee Jahraus’ second-grade class through the beginning of January as a part of the teacher cadet program.7 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Maddie Thaden is a part of Willmar Senior High School’s teaching cadet program, which allows high school students to have teaching experience at local elementary schools and Willmar Middle School. She is observing David Vinje’s seventh-grade communications class through the beginning of January. 8 / 8

WILLMAR — When Maddie Thaden saw a seventh-grader toss his iPad in the air and catch it, she walked over and told him to knock it off.

It's something a teacher would do.

Someday, Maddie intends to be a teacher. For now, she and her four classmates are some of the first teacher cadets at Willmar Senior High School.

The course, a pilot project for now, gives students a taste of the challenges and rewards of teaching. Five seniors — Paige Urban, Sara Miller, Jenna Stauffenecker, Moira Revier and Maddie Thaden — are working with teacher Christina Kurhajetz.

Kurhajetz learned about teacher cadets in a workshop a couple years ago. She said the course is a way to give teens an idea of whether they want a teaching career. The hope is they will decide to become teachers and maybe teach in the Willmar area or other rural areas, where teachers are often in short supply.

A teacher cadet program has been operating in South Carolina for 30 years. According to the program's website, the program has grown from a four-school pilot program in 1985-86 to serving about 2,700 high school students each year. More 60,000 students have participated over the life of the program.

The current class, classified as an independent study, lasts until the end of the term in January. Kurhajetz hopes it will grow into something more over time.

For the first two months, the students learned about the history of teaching, teaching methods and trends, lesson planning, classroom management, and discipline. In November, they began working in classrooms four days a week, about 90 minutes a day.

Before the term is over in January, all will have developed and presented lesson plans under the watch of Kurhajetz and their host teachers.

The teachers working with the cadets are Lisa Donner with Sara, Kennedy third grade; Edwina Lorensen with Moira, Kennedy third grade; Maria Hulscher with Jenna, Kennedy kindergarten; Kaylee Jahraus with Paige, Roosevelt second grade; and David Vinje with Maddie, Middle School communications.

The students were allowed to choose the types of classrooms they would visit. Jenna said she's noticed that younger kids "are so engaged compared to high school students."

Moira has enjoyed getting a feel for what a classroom is like. She knows her routine when she arrives at school and likes that. She leads a small reading group and "I always give hugs," she said.

Paige already knew some of the children in her class through her job at Cardinal Place. Those kids are seeing a different side of her in the classroom now, she said.

In Vinje's seventh-grade classroom, Maddie seems at home. Vinje helps her by explaining how he handles certain situations and how other teachers might do things differently, she said.

Maddie's goal has been to be a high school English teacher, but she's rethinking that. "I've really liked it in here; it's made me question if I want to be a high school or middle school teacher," she said.

Coming back to Willmar to teach is another thing to consider. "I've definitely thought about it," she said. "I really like it here."

"So far, it's been a cool opportunity for her," Vinje said. "She's learning about being a teacher."

In Jahraus' second-grade classroom, Paige helps students learning their math, and reads to the kids, too.

"She's been wonderful," Jahraus said. "The kids really love her; you can tell she enjoys being with children."

Paige is pretty sure she wants to be a teacher. "I wish I could spend a full day here, to see what it's like," she said.

Most of the students said the cadet experience has solidified their desire to teach.

Sara, who took the class to learn more about teaching, is still undecided. "I do like watching their faces light up when something clicks with them," she said.

"That's what makes it worthwhile," Kurhajetz told her. Even when she has a frustrating day, she said, it's rewarding to see and hear about the ways her classes have affected her students.

"I want this class to succeed," Kurhajetz said. "I want to grow our own program."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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