Beautancus native Melissa Smith is a freshman at the University of Mount Olive and one of 12 students enrolled in the university’s Homegrown Teacher Academy.
Funded by grants from the William R. Kenan Charitable Trust and other contributors, the academy is an innovative and collaborative program involving Duplin County Schools, James Sprunt Community College and UMO.
The academy is designed to identify and recruit students as early as middle school with the Duplin County School system who would be interested in becoming teachers.
“The best prospect for rural school districts to attract and retain teachers is to grow their own future educators and the HGTA is doing just that,” said Dr. Tommy Benson, associate professor of education at UMO.
“This program is truly one-of-a-kind and is an amazing opportunity for Duplin County and its students.”
Students can shadow teachers when they are in high school, obtain college credits while still in high school through JSCC and complete their teacher education degree at UMO. Students receive funding to offset the cost of college, thereby minimizing the amount of student debt incurred.
In return, academy graduates commit to work in Duplin County Schools.
“This scholarship has meant a great deal to me because it allows financial relief to my parents,” Smith said. “HGTA feels like a family that gives me the support to succeed in my classes.”
Smith is no stranger to UMO.
Her parents Tim and Lynn Smith are alumni.
Smith’s mother and her uncle are teachers.
A graduate of North Duplin Junior-Senior High School, Smith aspires to follow in their footsteps by being a high school social studies teacher when she graduates.
“I want to be a positive role model for my students, showing them love, kindness and allowing them to see the different opportunities Duplin County has to offer,” Smith said.
Smith volunteers with the Bridge Church of Mount Olive, works in the UMO Admissions Office and is part of the UMO Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
She’s quick to recognize her own role model.
“Mrs. Dupree was my most inspiring teacher growing up because she showed me that hard work and kindness go a long way,” Smith said. “To me, those successful attributes are being professional, standing your ground, showing understanding and being kind hearted.”
Discussing positive teaching styles is one of the topics that Smith and other HGTA students mull over during their required weekly meetings.
They also talk about ways to promote HGTA, coordinate and implement service projects and discuss the obstacles and opportunities within the Duplin County School system in an effort to brainstorm creative solutions.
“One of the goals of the Homegrown Teacher Academy is to make these students not only better teachers, but also better citizens,” said Gail Herring, assistant professor of education at UMO.
Applications are currently being accepted for the 2021-22 UMO Homegrown Teacher Academy with scholarship amounts ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per year.
“There are other scholarship opportunities available for Duplin County students as well that make earning a degree in education from UMO both affordable and attainable,” Herring said.