Hearne second grade teacher Fawn Simpson is spending her summer learning a new role, that of school administrator.
The Eagle reports Simpson was one of the first 100 teachers from across the state accepted into a Texas A&M University program aimed at developing teachers into principals.
The program, called Accelerated Preparation of Leaders for Underserved Schools, or APLUS, will allow Simpson to graduate with a master's degree in education in December, through a scholarship funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Elsa Villarreal, the master's degree coordinator for the program, said the APLUS curriculum gives the students a chance to grow professionally.
"They learn leadership. They learn program coordination. And they're applying what they've learned in their classes," she said.
The teachers in the program were selected based on their work with English learners, in language acquisition or in underserved schools.
As part of the program, Simpson was responsible for designing and coordinating a summer camp for Hearne students.
Villarreal said the "summer residency" requirement gives the master's degree candidates hands-on experience. They must work with Houston-based nonprofit iEducate to hire and pay college and high school students as teachers, develop a schedule, coordinate with the school principal, work with Texas A&M to implement curriculum, monitor classroom instruction and give feedback to the summer teachers. Then, they have a parent engagement activity, which at Hearne will be an open house Thursday during the camp, which runs from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
"They're doing a little bit of everything," Villarreal said. "It's kind of like they're running their little elementary school, but in maybe four to six weeks."
The experience forces the teachers to look at the classroom experience differently, give feedback to teachers and encourage self-reflection, she said.
Simpson said the program has been eye-opening.
"I'm seeing my principal in a whole different light," she said.
Simpson, who will be starting her fourth year in Hearne as a classroom teacher, designed the summer camp for students who needed to make up for absences, English learners who are behind level and other students recommended by teachers. The 48 students are divided into four classrooms, and Simpson said the summer camp has had nearly perfect attendance.
Simpson said she was drawn to the Hearne Independent School District because she wanted to teach where she could have an impact.
"They deserve that," she said of her students, "because we don't want this generational poverty to continue. We don't want it to proliferate. We want them to look at the world with different eyes, to realize `I can go out there and be somebody. I can go out there and change the world.' "
The APLUS program helped Simpson realize that while she cannot fix the students' home lives, she does have some control over their school experience.
She said she tries to create an environment where the students feel engaged, confident and safe, and she told her summer camp teachers to make sure the students were having fun.
"I want them to understand that education can be fun, and that this summer's just for trying to fill a gap or two and to slow that summer slide. That's all this is about," she said.
The APLUS summer camp is the first time a summer camp has been offered in Hearne schools, she said, and she hopes it has opened district leaders' eyes to the need.
"We have to look at it as a need over a want. We need volunteers in this school. We need the community engaged. We need summer camps for our kids. We need to hire high school and college kids to give them experience."
Simpson said the APLUS program has changed her perspective of the student experience.
"If it hadn't been for this APLUS, I'd have never gotten to do this. I would have never gotten to spend four weeks meeting these college and high school kids and getting to know these other kids from other classrooms that I only know from passing in the hall," Simpson said. "It's been an amazing experience to get to be with them on this level and be out of the classroom and see it as an administrator would."
The program's future beyond the current three-year APLUS grant is still to be determined, Villarreal said, but the university is exploring options for further funding from the U.S. Department of Education.
"We see that we are already impacting 100 teachers who are going to be outstanding leaders all over Texas, and we would like to continue that," she said.