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Ritenour School District teams up with SLU to turn students into teachers

The "Ritenour Teach and Lead Program" started three years ago, as a partnership with St. Louis University.

ST. LOUIS — A partnership between a St. Louis-area school district and Saint Louis University is helping to address an issue many districts continue to face: teacher shortages.

The Ritenour School District is finding its next generation of teachers in its own classrooms.

It's called the "Ritenour Teach and Lead Program", which the district and Saint Louis University started about three years ago. 

Basically, Ritenour graduates attend SLU and then return back to the district as teachers once they graduate. 

Superintendent Chris Kilbride said the program benefits not only the district, university and the students, but also the community as a whole.

"We have this new pipeline of talent that is going to benefit us, we think, for generations," he said.

While it may not be the first place you think to look, Kilbride said the Ritenour School District is finding its future teachers, right within its own hallways.

"It was a result of necessity, that the great resignation in education has caused us to realize that we had to look to new avenues for talent," he said.

Kilbride said the search for new avenues lead to a partnership with Saint Louis University. 

The "Ritenour Teach and Lead Program" involves students as early as their sophomore year of high school to begin mentoring and gaining classroom experience.

After they attend SLU, they come back as teachers to the district that taught them, according to Kilbride.

"They know community expectations, they've built relationships in the community, so then the work is about learning how to be the most impactful teacher, practitioner as possible," he said.

There are 20 students right now in the program, with five of those already on SLU's campus.

Ryan Wilson, Program Coordinator for Community Projects at SLU's School of Education, works directly with the students starting in their senior year of high school.

"We're trying to create a new crop and that new conversation for teachers," he said.

Wilson said getting teachers from the community they were raised in makes a huge difference in the long run.

"We have a very diverse community here in Ritenour, and we want to keep the diverse teachers to keep the diverse community, and that all ties into love and that's what we're trying to do," he said.

Being a representation for kids like herself is why Darleen Garcia wants to be a teacher. She said she joined the program to impact the future generation.

"I think having teachers of color at a younger age, it kind of shows students that like in the future, if they plan on doing teaching, like they know, 'Oh, I saw a teacher of color that looks just like me when I was younger, so I know that I can do that as well,'" she said.

With two more years left of school, Garcia is excited to come back to the school that made her who she is.

"It's just a way for me to give back to the community that really helped me get to where I am now," she said.

Saint Louis University and the Ritenour Pride and Promise Foundation make sure all costs are covered for these students. 

SLU is working with other school districts on their own "teach and lead" programs.

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