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Staff photo by JESSE YEATMANMechanicsville Elementary School teacher and St. Mary's College of Maryland graduate Lauren Holmes expressively reads a book to her fourth-grade class.
Although Lauren Holmes grew up in Carroll County, after finishing St. Mary's College of Maryland's teaching program last year she was aiming to land a job at a school in St. Mary's County.
She did just that, as have several dozen other teachers who graduated from the college's master's in arts of teaching program since its formation three years ago. The master's program is one of the most direct infusions of the college's graduates into the St. Mary's County community.
Holmes, 23, teaches fourth grade at Mechanicsville Elementary School. The other fourth-grade teacher there, Melissa Harris, graduated with Holmes from St. Mary's College's teaching program.
Holmes knew after spending the last five years in St. Mary's County that she wanted to start a career here.
"That was my hope. I love it here," Holmes said.
That goes a long way in the hiring process. Teachers and others who are lured to St. Mary's County for a job all too often leave after finding the culture or distance from a major city not to their liking.
While Holmes was at St. Mary's College, she spent time at Greenview Knolls Elementary, Green Holly Elementary and Hollywood Elementary and then landed her full-time job at Mechanicsville. She was paired with different mentor teachers during her student teaching, giving her several perspectives.
"I'm not a stranger here," she said.
The St. Mary's College master's program partners with seven to eight schools, most in St. Mary's County. There are now 32 full-time teachers in St. Mary's public schools who earned their master's degrees at the college. That is about a third of the graduates since the program's inception.
"We are very connected" with St. Mary's public schools, said Lois Stover, professor and chair of the educational studies program.
There are usually between 70 or 80 students in undergraduate programs in the pipeline for the master's program. Add to that between 35 and 42 students each year in the master's program, and there are often close to 100 student teachers from St. Mary's College helping in St. Mary's public schools each year.
Ed Weiland, director of human resources for St. Mary's public schools, said that while teachers coming from the college's program are not necessarily given a leg up during the hiring process, human resource staff members do consider factors such as their familiarity with local schools, local curriculum and the county in general, he said.
"We appreciate the partnership we have with St. Mary's College," Weiland said, adding that the school system also offers the college a place for its students to intern, whether they plan to stay in the county or not.
The program also teaches the college students interview and resume skills, something Holmes said really helped when she applied with St. Mary's public schools.
The one-year master's program is intense, with students alternating several weeks-long periods between college class time and time student teaching in elementary, middle or high school classrooms. They spend a major part of the second semester as a student teacher full time in a public school classroom.
Most students finish, although a few do not, Stover said.
The master's program "prepares you as much as possible" to be a teacher, Holmes said. There are still things that can only be learned on the job — for instance, how to communicate with parents, she said.
"It's sort of good preparation for the life of a teacher," she said. "I'm still smiling, so I guess they prepared me all right."
As part of their studies, the college students identify something in the school's improvement plan that they can research and, hopefully, improve.
"As a department, through our undergraduate program we try to educate the students to be good citizens [and to] understand educational politics," Stover said.
At Leonardtown High School, the St. Mary's College students worked across disciplines and saw literacy as an issue in student learning. The college students came up with a vocabulary strategy that could be used in English, science and social studies.
There are other educational outreaches from the college to local schools, including a partnership with the public school system's Fairlead Academy, which aims to help high school students stay on track to graduate.
Brendan McCarthy, a senior history major, said he started volunteering with a local GED program as a freshman at St. Mary's College. Although participation from college students ebbs and flows, this fall there were about 10 regulars who volunteered once a week to help with classes held after school at Great Mills High School.
"I think that anybody with an education like ours at St. Mary's should be willing to teach those who need it," McCarthy said in an e-mail. "In ages past, a college degree came with the unspoken understanding that one of the responsibilities that comes with your education is to pass your knowledge along to other people."
About this series
St. Mary's College of Maryland is a state school situated on state land, but its professors and students also make their mark on the surrounding community, and some of its graduates go on to begin their professional lives here.
This is the first of three articles about the relationship between the college and the rest of St. Mary's County.
COMING FRIDAY, FEB. 4
What do a liberal arts college and a high-tech Navy base have in common?
Quite a bit, actually
COMING NEXT WEDNESDAY, FEB. 9
College's concern about St. Mary's River runs much deeper than just sailing and picturesque views