Many members of America's armed services began their military careers recruited out of high school. Now, with the help of a federal grant, those personnel are being recruited back into the classroom as educators.
The U.S. Department of Education last week awarded the state Department of Education a grant of $200,000 for each of the next five years to open a "Troops-to-Teachers" program office.
"It's going to give us a pool of folks ... who want to be teachers who are trained inside the state of Alaska," said PJ Ford Slack, director of teaching and learning support with the state education department.
The Troops-to-Teachers federal program was founded in 1994 and has offices serving more than 30 states. The program connects qualifying military personnel who are interested in teaching with teacher-certification programs. It is also a job placement and referral service.
Through mid-December, according to the program Web site, more than 4,000 participants had been hired in schools - 16 in Alaska. Patti Carlson, human resources director for the Juneau School District, said she was not aware of any who are teaching in Juneau.
The "No Child Left Behind Act" education bill signed by President Bush earlier this month opened the program to National Guardsmen and Reservists, in addition to active-duty personnel. That change that is very significant to Alaska, said Alaska Air National Guard Lt. Col. Judy Mathewson of Anchorage, a teacher for 23 years and an advocate of bringing the program to the state.
"Because of the shortage of teachers, and because the Guard is in nearly every community ... this is the perfect fit for Alaska," she said, calling it a "win-win situation" for schools and the military.
The federal education bill also provided federal funding for up to 3,000 stipends of up to $5,000 each to program participants, as well as bonuses to those who take jobs in "high need" schools.
Ford Slack said the Alaska office likely will be located at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. "They have generously offered us free office space (and) that's the easiest jumping-off place to cover all the military branches" in the state, she said.
There could be a satellite office in Fairbanks, Mathewson added.
Ford Slack said the conditions of the grant included establishing a Web site and 24-hour toll-free phone line that will allow people from across the state to participate. She said the department hopes to get the office operating by early March.
Ian Godwin is assistant director of the Montana & High Plains Troops to Teachers Program, based in Bozeman, Mont., which started last August and has drawn nearly 90 participants.
Godwin said the program markets participants as "better-than-your-standard teacher straight out of college." Among the benefits, he said, is that participants often cover areas that may be lacking in most new educators.
"The folks out of Troops-to-Teachers tend to be primarily male, and a lot are interested in going into (very) urban or (very) rural schools," he said. "It's an incredibly valuable program. ... I think it's a great opportunity to take a population who has the experience and retool them for teaching."
Mathewson said from her experience in both education and the military that the structure and discipline of the military can transfer well to the classroom.
"It's amazing to me how similar it is, and how you can make those connections," she said.