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Colonial Life grant expands Columbia College program’s reach

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Would-be educators seeking a non-traditional path to the classroom have an innovative option at Columbia College, and the school’s Alternative Pathways for Educator Certification Center has received a boost with a $24,000 grant from Colonial Life.

The center, funded by a five-year grant through the S.C. Commission on Higher Education, allows career changers or those already working in the education field to become certified teachers.  

Sixteen students made up the first group of the APEC program, established in July 2018 as a partnership with Richland School District One and Fairfield County Schools. Three worked toward a bachelor’s degree, while 13 sought master’s degrees. The students included coaches, receptionists and instructional assistants ready to move forward with teaching certifications while continuing to work full-time.

The grant will expand the program’s offerings to Title One schools in Richland School District Two and partnerships with City Year, a nonprofit that works with public schools in high-need communities, according to a news release from Colonial Life.

Shawn Geiger first pursued an education degree more than 20 years ago, but family obligations conflicted with student teaching requirements, Geiger said in an article on Columbia College’s website. The APEC program, which also provides professional development, mentoring and support to teachers and administrators to improve performance and retention, gave him the chance to work toward his goal of becoming a special education teacher, he said.

“Through this center, working adults in our community will have an opportunity to become classroom teachers,” Marla Sanders, associate professor of education at Columbia College, said on the school’s website. “The work of the center will also meet the needs of our local schools and give our APEC fellows the opportunity to achieve their goals.”

The program features four, six-credit core modules focusing on pedagogy, theory and research. Participants are also partnered with a mentor and assigned a classroom in the district where they work.

“Some of the participants are perhaps teacher assistants, or they have another role within a school, and so they are already around students every day,” said Marie McGehee, director of corporate social responsibility at Colonial Life. “They know what the culture is, and for those reasons, I think they’re going to be more successful as a classroom teacher. They already get it. They know what it takes to thrive in that environment. Attracting that type of individual to become a classroom teacher already lends itself toward success.

“We definitely, as a company, want to support the state’s priority need around teacher attraction and retention, and this really homes in on that effort.”

McGehee said support for public education is a priority for the Columbia-based supplemental insurance company. Colonial Life and its employees gave more than $2.4 million to state nonprofits in 2018 through corporate and employee contributions as well as nearly 11,000 employee volunteer hours.

“We’re a for-profit company, so we certainly believe in giving back to the community, and that investing in the community where our company is thriving is the right thing to do,” McGehee said. “We’ve done that for nearly 80 years. We have three arms of charitable giving: education, health and well-being, and arts and culture. Supporting public education is more than half of our annual charitable contributions.”

Colonial Life contributed $25,000 in seed money toward the first year of the University of South Carolina’s Teaching Induction Program, which provides graduates of its College of Education support during their first three years in the classroom, and gave another $50,000 to the second year of the program. CarolinaTIP had a 100% retention rate of its first 15 participants, according to the university, and added another 53 teachers in year two.

“Investing in educational initiatives certainly cultivates a prepared workforce from which we can draw exceptional talent, and it contributes to a vibrant community where our employees desire to live and supports economic development and growth across the state,” McGehee said.

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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