March 7, 2024

Aspiring Teachers’ Clubs Will Support Adventist Academies in Southeast U.S.

Southern Adventist University initiative seeks to inspire the next generation of teachers.

Amanda Blake, for Southern Tidings
Some of the students at the Aspiring Teachers’ Club at Collegedale Academy meet for a group discussion during lunch, led by their teacher and club sponsor Brian Arner (left). [Photo: Pamela Davenport]

To inspire the next generation of Seventh-day Adventist teachers, Southern Adventist University piloted the nation’s first Aspiring Teachers’ Club (ATC) for students at both Georgia-Cumberland Academy and Collegedale Academy in 2022. Since then, it has grown into a valuable resource within the Southern Union Conference for high school students who are interested in a career in education.

Melanie DiBiase, associate professor of education at Southern, describes the purpose of the Union-wide ATC program as “pulling back the curtain on teaching,” empowering high school students to jumpstart their journeys as educators and learn about a misunderstood career.

“We all go through school, so everybody sees what a teacher does,” DiBiase said. “However, most kids don’t fully understand the role and mission of an educator. They don’t realize that teachers make thousands of tough decisions some days.”

As members of an ATC, academy students have opportunities to shadow and assist professional teachers, engage in pre-professional development club meetings, lead out in school worships and mini lessons, assist in coaching sports teams, and attend University education department events. They also tutor younger students at nearby Adventist elementary schools; meet with sponsors to discuss tenets of effective instruction, such as social-emotional learning and growth mindset; and interact with denominational conference leaders to learn about careers within the Adventist school system.

“Aspiring Teachers’ Clubs allow kids to test-drive teaching and build relationships with valuable mentors early. It’s a way to make them feel seen and wanted, to elevate the profession of teaching,” DiBiase said.

Working as a Team

Piloting the ATC was a team effort between Southern’s School of Education and Psychology, the University’s administration, and the Southern Union. DiBiase noted that the Southern Union Conference assisted the two initial clubs financially and through the expertise of Keith Hallum and Carla Thrower in the Union’s education department last year. This year, Murray Cooper, who replaced Hallum as the director of education, found additional funding for each of the eight clubs in the Southern Union. Jason Merryman, Southern Adventist University’s vice president for enrollment management, played a key role in getting the clubs started in 2022, both financially and through his expertise, and he continues to find scholarship funding and support for local clubs.

“This initiative is about teamwork,” DiBiase said. “People who work at all levels of education are coming together to promote a career in teaching. This is important since a student’s experience in school each year heavily depends on their teachers. Our Adventist schools are one of our church’s largest ministries, and it is reliant on the quality of teachers we have working in our schools. The heart of the ATC initiative is helping young people discover their God-given purpose in education and to begin supporting them as they pursue a career in education even at the academy level. By providing early support to students interested in teaching, it gives them a solid foundation as they begin their journey in education.”

Expanding Opportunities

In the spring of 2023, the SFFC Foundation approached Tammy Overstreet, Southern’s dean for the School of Education, Psychology, and Counseling, along with Leisa Standish, director for elementary education at the North American Division (NAD), about adding a scholarship component to the clubs. During the 2023-24 school year, the SFFC Foundation offered to fund up to eight tutoring scholarships to every academy in the NAD. Southern also introduced a scholarship worth US$7,000 over four years to award to one high school senior from each club it supports.

These scholarship opportunities helped the ATC continue to grow. Southern Adventist University, in conjunction with the Southern Union, currently supports clubs at six academies: Atlanta Adventist Academy, Bass Memorial Academy, Collegedale Academy, Georgia-Cumberland Academy, Highland Academy, and Madison Academy. Oakwood University also supports an ATC at its local academy.

As the scholarships presented new opportunities to expand the program, the NAD began working with Southern and Oakwood to help develop a club model and resources for other clubs sponsored by other Adventist universities across the U.S. and Canada.

Mentoring the Next Generation

DiBiase hopes the ATC will not only help high school students realize God’s calling for their lives but also create a pipeline of quality Adventist educators who will bless young learners for years to come. “We want the students who enter our programs to be ready to embrace the rigors of college and the journey to becoming a teacher. We want to fill the Seventh-day Adventist teacher pipeline with high-quality, enthusiastic educators who are ready to successfully enter the classroom on day one of their careers,” DiBiase said.

“One of our church’s greatest ministries is our school system, and for children in our schools, one of the most important people in their lives is their teacher,” DiBiase said. “Every single year, our students deserve the very best. That’s true at each level of education, from college to kindergarten. That’s why we need to support teachers, even if they’re still in high school and considering a career in education. We need to help young people build tools that transform them into teacher-disciples for Christ.”

Jordan Smith, high school senior and Collegedale Academy’s ATC president, said, “The Aspiring Teachers’ Club has connected me with teachers who care about my future and are willing to help me achieve my goals. My experience in this club has convinced me that I want to be a teacher just like my incredible mentors.”

The original version of this story was posted on Southern Tidings.