Ralston High School senior Katie McCasland leads a small group discussion in a fourth-grade classroom Thursday at Wildewood Elementary. 

Ralston High School students are seeing the classroom from a whole new perspective through the district’s Education Academy.

Rather than sitting at a desk and taking notes during lecture, students interested in becoming a teacher are getting hands on experience in the field of education.

Education Academy is part of the Nebraska Educators Rising, a program created to help combat the declining number of teachers.

The program, which has a class component as well as an internship portion where students travel to elementary schools, has allowed RHS students to learn the basics of teaching for the past three years.

Rebecca Dunn, the Education Academy teacher, said the program is a great way for students to explore career options.

“It’s more of an awareness of what teaching is. I want them to get a pretty well rounded idea of what it’s like,” Dunn said.

“The biggest goal is to find out if it is something they want to learn more about or if it’s something that’s not for them. They don’t have to spend the time or money in college figuring that out down the road.”

After taking a prerequisite class, students are assigned a classroom to complete their internship. For two hours a day over the course of nine weeks, students report to their assigned classroom where they observe teaching techniques and work with students.

While they are in the classroom, Dunn said, high schoolers often work one-on-one with students, lead small groups and help with classroom activities.

“I try to get them in front of kids as much as possible,” Dunn said.

Students also learn about the school as a whole by conducting research about its socioeconomic status and languages spoken at the school. They even interview a staff member, such as a paraprofessional.

“They really get a feel for the different jobs that are within the building they are in as well as the classroom they were assigned to,” Dunn said.

When students finish their nine weeks, they can repeat the internship as many times as they would like.

However, they are placed with a new teacher, possibly at another school, to ensure they get a different experience.

Participants can also earn college credit at the University of Nebraska at Omaha through the academy.

While the academy is open to all grade levels, it is primarily intended for juniors and seniors because they can transport themselves back and forth between the high school and elementary school.

Senior Katie McCasland’s is in her second semester and is currently in the midst of her internship.

Throughout the week, McCasland spends time in a fourth grade class at Wildewood Elementary and loves every minute of it.

“I love the environment. I feel very welcomed there,” McCasland said.

“They like having me there and even though they see me as someone to talk to, there’s still that professionalism where they still respect me.”

Her favorite part, she said, is spending time with the students and helping them understand concepts they had trouble grasping.

“That makes me feel really good about myself,” she said.

Before this program McCasland said she had no idea she wanted to be a teacher.

“Just being here has made me realize I don’t want to do anything else,” she said.

After high school, McCasland said she plans to pursue a teaching degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, taking what she learned at Wildewood with her.

“It’s going to help me in my own classroom down the road,” she said.

Watching students like McCasland succeed, Dunn said, is why she loves overseeing the program.

“My favorite part is to see their faces when they get back from internship and they really like it,” Dunn said.

“That’s really fun to watch.”

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