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'All it takes is a phone call sometimes': St. Louis charter schools share teachers amid ongoing shortage

Momentum Academy and Lift for Life Academy have been leaning on each other to continue to give students the education they deserve.

ST. LOUIS — Schools across the country, and here in Missouri, are continuing to struggle with the ongoing teacher shortage. 

Two St. Louis charter schools, Momentum Academy and Lift for Life Academy, decided to take matters into their own hands and lean on each other for help.

For three periods a day at Momentum Academy's Tower Grove South Campus, certain classes aren't being taught by the teacher physically in the classroom, but by a teacher a couple of miles down the street at Lift for Life Academy.

Miranda Ming, the executive director for Momentum Academy, said all it takes is a shift in mindsets.

"Many people were used to and would really want a live person in the classroom but given the shortage that's happening in multiple industries nationwide, we're learning that education is forever changing, and the more that we can get our kids comfortable with diverse mediums, diverse educators, being partners with others in their neighborhood, the better it will be," she said.

Over the summer Ming realized they'd only be able to serve 50% of their students due to staffing. That's when the idea of a "hybrid model" was born. 

"Teachers from Lift for Life are able to teach through either asynchronous or synchronous models, and then the kids here at Momentum are able to ask questions and are able to log into their Google classrooms and interact with kids at Lift for Life and at Momentum, we have a facilitator that's in the classroom, just making sure that our kids are focused and ready to learn," she said.

Ming knew that Lift for Life Academy, at the time, was 100% staffed and that's why she reached out to the charter school.

"All it takes is a phone call sometimes,' she said.

It's an idea that Quanisha Major, the principal at Tower Grove South, was apprehensive about it at first but has been pleasantly surprised.

"Sometimes when you just have one teacher, they're not able to do that extra work with some of the kids who are falling behind, but in this scenario, my scholars actually have two teachers, so they have their fully certified staff member and then they have someone who's more like a teacher's assistant who can still help them close those gaps," she said.

According to Major, the hybrid model is currently happening in three periods a day in math classes. 

She said it was imperative the two schools worked together to solve this issue.

"Regardless of what's happening in the hiring world, kids deserve to have highly qualified staff members. They deserve an education that sets them up for the future of their choosing," Major said.

Katrice Noble, Lift for Life Academy's deputy director, said the model isn't only benefiting Momentum Academy students, but also her teachers that are involved.

"What we know is that teachers are underpaid. They are extremely underpaid, and so most teachers take on a part-time job. This has allowed those two teachers, in particular, to not have to do that because this is a part-time job and actually pays way more than a part-time job and they will possibly have elsewhere, so that's one of the major impacts for the teachers," she said. 

Noble has two teachers helping their neighbors out daily. 

She said it's a group effort that every educator involved wants to see more of.

"It's so important for the entire city to see that we're on one page, on one accord and that we're trying to move in synergy," Noble said.

Ming said she and many educators believe that zip codes don't matter and it's all about educational access.

"The more that we can reach out and solve problems in creative and innovative ways, the more that we can continue to close the opportunity gap, the more that we can make sure students of all ethnicities and backgrounds have access to high-quality education," she said.

This program just started during the second week of school this year and educators said students are already making academic strides. 

Both schools will keep using this hybrid model until they are fully staffed.

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