By B.C. Manion
Students who began classes at Saint Leo University this fall have a new option for those looking to educate the nation’s youth after the addition of a secondary education major.
That program joins the university’s elementary and middle grades majors. Saint Leo has a long tradition of preparing elementary education teachers — a major it began offering in 1967. More recently, in 2005, it added a field of study for middle school educators.
Saint Leo officials decided to expand its teacher preparation program into high school grades after becoming aware of an interest from its students and also noticing an increasing national demand, said Nancy Cerezo, associate professor of education middle grades/secondary education coordinator.
An increasing number of students have been identifying secondary education as their projected major on their SAT tests, Cerezo said.
Once the university recognized the interest and need, it conducted an internal study to see if it would be viable to add a major in secondary education. After concluding it was, Saint Leo began preparing to meet the standards necessary for program graduates to meet state requirements.
Establishing the framework for the major has taken a good deal of coordination, Cerezo said. She is grateful for the supportive efforts from the university community.
“Our secondary program and our middle grades program have the support of our arts and science faculty, and that’s huge,” Cerezo said. “We could not do our middle/secondary program without their support. They truly have been wonderful.”
It took close to 12 months to realign the courses, she said. The university also made some changes to its middle grades program.
“We were able to develop the English, the math, the social science,” Cerezo said. The university is still working on science, which they expect to finish this year.
The university has state approval on its middle grades courses, but doesn’t have it yet on its secondary program.
“It’s unclear how long it will take,” Cerezo said.
However, she noted the university is committed: “We don’t want our students to graduate without the (state) approval. … If we don’t have state approval when they enter their junior year, they could do middle grades (program). They can start the middle grades and then switch.
“The difference between the middle grades and secondary program is the certification,” Cerezo continued. Middle certification is for teaching grades five through nine and secondary certification is for grades six through 12.
The goal is to recruit freshmen into the program and to have the state approval by the time they enter their junior year, she said.
For the secondary grades program, the university hopes to start with 20 students and to gradually grow. The middle grades program typically has 15 to 20 students and the elementary usually has 35 freshmen each year.
Cerezo said she expects the employment market for teachers to be good for the foreseeable future based on demographics. On one hand, the population is growing. On the other, many educators are reaching retirement age.
Cerezo is an ardent advocate of teaching as a career. She sees it as having a value that goes well beyond the classroom walls.
“Working with students and helping them learn to be who they are is so important,” Cerezo said. “We provide content for them to become knowledgeable and successful in life, but what we really do is we develop the future.”
The university began classes on Aug. 21 with more than 650 freshmen and about 170 transfer students. Overall, undergraduate enrollment on campus this fall is about 2,100.
Total enrollment at the university this fall, including those in online programs and studying at continuing education centers in seven states, will surpass 16,000.