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Frostburg State University’s Unique Dual Elementary-Middle School Certification Receives Approval
03/13/2014

Addressing a gap in the traditional preparation of teachers and acting in response to the needs of Maryland’s public schools, Frostburg State University has become the first higher education institution in Maryland approved to offer a dual elementary-middle school teacher certification.

“Frostburg has a long history of producing some of the state’s best teachers, and this dedication to finding a better way to serve middle school students is just one reason why,” said FSU President Jonathan Gibralter. “Creating this dual certification option for our students is another way that Frostburg State University is working to be responsive to the needs of local and state employers, as well as our students.”

Middle schools are hiring the most teachers these days, according to Dr. Jodi Nichols, coordinator of middle school programs. This is a benefit to new graduates seeking positions in schools, but it is also a symptom of the difficulties middle schools have in retaining teachers. Nearly half do not stay for more than five years, she said, often leaving because their teacher preparation did not include a strong background in the unique needs of middle school students.

Middle school administrators have generally been required to decide between hiring teachers who have been trained as elementary generalists without much knowledge of their assigned subject area, or secondary specialists in a particular content area, with little understanding of early adolescent learning.

The new FSU program, which is unique within the state of Maryland and relatively rare across the U.S., provides the balance between knowledge of educational development that comes with elementary preparation and a deeper level of knowledge in a content area such as math, science, social studies or English, as well as courses geared specifically to addressing the needs of middle school students, Nichols said. It also includes classes and field experience geared particularly to middle school students’ needs, including the adolescent development and psychology of middle school learners and methods and strategies specific to that age group.

The middle school courses also have a strong basis in bridging educational theory to actual practice in the classroom. The foundations course requires eight field trips to middle school classrooms where students see the principles they have learned in college classes applied by exemplary teachers, followed by a session in which those teachers explain how and why they used those techniques, Nichols said. This follows a medical model of study, observe and reflect, she said.

“That’s a confidence-builder,” said Daniel Miller, a 2012 FSU graduate and Master of Education student who decided to focus on middle school. “You see strategies put into play in a middle school setting.”

The interest is strong among FSU students. Enrollment has steadily grown from when the first middle-school specific courses were offered; now nearly all elementary education students have chosen to take the course, despite it not being a requirement, Nichols said.

The new program, which will officially launch in fall of 2015, will include a middle school foundations course, a methods and strategies course and 18 to 20 credit hours of a content specialty, such as math, science, social studies or language arts/English. However, current students can take advantage of much of the program that is already in place and receive middle school certification through the PRAXIS test.

The new program will also give students the option of where to focus their internship time, which is currently 15 weeks in an elementary school and six weeks in a middle school. Students will be able to choose to reverse those time allotments.

“That has been one of the most powerful things,” Nichols said of the experience interning in middle school. “It’s important for students to be able to ask themselves, ‘Can I see myself working with this age level?’”

It’s a question Miller, who initially had no interest in middle school, answered in the affirmative. “I enjoy the challenge of middle school. There’s something new every day. You never know what you’re going to get,” he said.

The College of Education worked closely with an advisory group that included the principals of all of Allegany County’s middle schools and one from Garrett County, along with a dozen successful middle school teachers.

This program required approval from the University System of Maryland, the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Maryland State Department of Education, which Nichols said has been very supportive of FSU’s development process, since there is an expectation that other colleges and universities will model similar programs after FSU’s.

“Having been a teacher and middle school principal for a quarter of a century, I can attest to the challenges our teachers have combining strong academic content with knowledge and understanding of the unique needs of middle school children,” said Dr. Clarence Golden dean of the College of Education. “This new program will be key to strengthening the preparation for teachers wanting to teach in the middle grades.”

For more information on FSU’s Elementary-Middle School Dual Certification major, contact Nichols at 301-687-4218 or jlnichols@frostburg.edu.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

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For further information on this release, contact:

Office of News and Media Services
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD  21532-2303

Telephone: 301-687-3171
Fax: 301-687-7589
E-mail: news@frostburg.edu