CWU News

CWU-Led Teacher Academies Equips Young Educators for Success

Students from the Yelm Teacher Academy in a classroom and touring CWU Ellensburg

Students from the Yelm Teacher Academy visited CWU Ellensburg.

Becoming an educator is both an art and a science, requiring knowledge of the principles that help impart knowledge to students and the practical experience needed to manage a classroom. But not all educational environments are created equally. Each community functions differently, requiring teachers to be involved and establish local connections in order to meet their students where they are, and guide them to where they envision themselves going.

In an ongoing effort to meet this need, CWU has partnered with a series of Teacher Academies in 16 high schools across Washington state, encouraging students who enroll to return to their communities to teach after completing their college degrees.

Teacher Academies programs take the form of a high school class, often offered for dual credit for EFC 250: Introduction to Education. The class offers students the opportunity to intern with an elementary or middle school teacher in their district, and follows the Recruiting Washington Teachers curriculum, which is designed by the state to help foster interest in education and diversify the teacher workforce.

Eric Hougan, one of CWU’s university partners for Teacher Academies, believes the curriculum is succeeding in its goal of preparing students for careers in K-12 education.

“Because the Recruiting Washington Teachers curriculum is grounded in equity, social justice, practicum experiences, and allowing students to reflect on their own identities and strengths, it is better equipping them for the teaching workforce,” he said. “And there’s further potential around the Teacher Academies to continue fostering community among CWU alumni to provide an ongoing, supportive infrastructure.”

The CWU Teacher Academies model launched in 2008, in partnership with the Renton School District (RSD), which now has an Academies  class at each of its high schools. Hougan started his work with the Teacher Academies as a teacher for one of these classes, where he met a high school student, Alex Castro-Wilson, he would encounter again later in his career as a college professor at CWU-Des Moines.

“When Alex came to the CWU-Des Moines center at Highline College, I saw that he was very well equipped to handle the coursework at a higher level,” Hougan said. “Once he graduated, he went on to become teacher of the year for the Renton School District, and now he serves on the Professional Educator Standards Board. Alex now hosts CWU/RSD Teacher Academy students in his classroom, an example of the impact of this program.”

CWU Family and Consumer Science and Education Senior Ingrid Valencia credits the Grandview High School Teacher Academy with introducing her to the possibility of a teaching career, saying, “If it wasn’t for the program, I wouldn’t even have considered education. But because I joined, I was able to explore it prior to coming to college. I made up my mind to pursue it here.”

Valencia will be student-teaching at Grandview High in the spring, mentored by the same teacher who led her Teacher Academy in high school. She has already been hired there as a full-time family and consumer sciences teacher—a role that will begin once she finishes her CWU degree.

Dawn Harry, the new director of CWU Teacher Academies, says that an early field experience is often the deciding factor in students choosing to pursue a career in education.

“When high school students have that experience of making a genuine difference for the kids they are working with, and then they go back week after week and form a relationship, I think that gives many of them the drive to do the hard work to become a teacher,” she said. “I’m seeing the quality of candidates out in the field improving. By the time they get to their student teaching, they have a lot more experience under their belt.”

Along with setting the stage for a successful transition to college and beyond, Teacher Academies offers its students the opportunity to take the Paraeducator Assessment, allowing them to work as paraeducators right out of high school and begin developing classroom experience before starting college. The class also gives them access to CWU college advisors, who assist them in planning out their path to teaching, plus faculty liaisons who often co-teach with a Teacher Academy student to help them picture themselves in a college setting.

At its core, CWU Teacher Academies is part of a statewide effort to expand and diversify the teaching workforce. Through support from CWU’s Department of Education and the connections it has with schools across the state, newly graduated teachers are given access to mentorship and guidance whenever they need. This support, combined with the community-focused approach taken by the Teacher Academies, leads to the growth and development of local educators.

“It’s positively impacting people in a lot of different ways,” Valencia said. “Besides helping to alleviate the teaching shortage, (the program is) asking people to come back and teach in the communities they were part of in high school, which is a really great opportunity, especially for more rural areas that need more teachers. It makes the teacher a lot more connected to their students and their community.”

Media Contact: Rune Torgersen, Department of Public Affairs,,