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Endowment helps keep UNT program going

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

A new $2 million endowment will allow significant funding for the University of North Texas to continue it’s popular teacher training program, college officials said.

Half the money came from private donations, and the second half came this week from a $1 million matching grant from the National Math and Science Initiative, funded by the Exxon Mobil Corp., the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

Perhaps more than the new endowment, UNT’s before-and-after numbers in graduating secondary math and science teachers show the success of the Teach North Texas program.

Before the teacher training program began in 2008, about four of the 6,000 or so who graduated from the University of North Texas each year with a bachelor’s degree had trained to become secondary math and science teachers. Since the program began, 61 have graduated, and currently about 300 more are enrolled.

The program’s co-director, UNT math professor John Quintanilla said that they had long suspected there was a latent interest in the student body in such a program, but a dramatic change was necessary to tap it.

LaKeisha Leonard was one of those who was primed for such a program. Growing up, Leonard had helped her mother, a day care center operator, with field trips and other activities, so she had been around children all her life. Then, as a senior at Killeen High School, she was inspired by her algebra teacher. Not only did she know she wanted to be a teacher, now she knew she wanted to be a math teacher.

“I’d never struggled with math, but the way he taught captured my attention,” Leonard said.

When she was accepted at UNT, she received a brochure in the mail about Teach North Texas and was excited to learn that she could take two free classes to be sure this was something she wanted to do.

This year, she joined the staff at Hillcrest High School in Dallas, teaching Algebra 1 and Algebra 2. Currently, she and her students are working through inequalities — concepts that can be hard for students to understand. But Leonard is prepared, she said, having worked through many ways to relate the concepts to real-life situations, from shopping to figuring out how many birthday party guests to invite.

“It’s getting them to think mathematically,” Leonard said.

Aspiring teachers in the program major in whatever subject they will be teaching — e.g., chemistry, math or physics. But a key feature of the program is getting the students field experience right from the beginning, Quintanilla said. Even freshmen are dispatched to classrooms — under close supervision — to get practice teaching math and science concepts, he said.

Graduates are working in North Texas, with teachers working in Athens and Gainesville the farthest flung, he said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.