San Jacinto College education student Karina Zuniga has wanted to be a teacher since she was a child. Completing the Pathway to Teaching Careers internship with Channelview ISD validated her dream.
"I didn't know if teaching was the right career path for me, and I thought it was too soon for me to go into the classroom," she said.
In only her second semester, Zuniga stepped foot into a kindergarten classroom at Hamblen Elementary and became "Ms. Karina."
Dr. Mia Young, Channelview ISD director of career and technical education, believes these early internships "empower students to better understand what it means to work in education and create those important aha moments and connections with children."
Although Zuniga felt shy in the beginning, her confidence grew as she worked with the kindergartners in the classroom.
"I felt like a second teacher in the room, walking them to lunch and recess and working in small groups," she said.
This experience is exactly what Caresal Bolds, San Jac program director of child development, and Dr. Randy Snyder, San Jac fine arts department chair, had in mind when they developed the program in spring 2019.
"This creates an opportunity for students to work in education and gain practical experience while still in school," Bolds said. "The students are hands-on in the classroom with an experienced teacher to mentor them and offer immediate feedback. They can also try different grade levels until they find their niche."
With a nationwide teacher shortage in public schools and childcare centers, the Pathway to Teaching Careers internship gives students a behind-the-scenes look before they enter the profession.
"We want students to get that 'I can do this' feeling," said Bolds. "But it's also an opportunity early on for them to recognize if teaching isn't the right career for them."
To qualify, students must maintain a 2.5 GPA and work at least 19.5 hours a week, though they can choose their schedule. These qualifications also meet the requirements for the Federal Work-Study Program, which compensates students for their internship.
"Because it was a paid internship, I was able to quit my waitressing job and pay my bills while working in my major," Zuniga said.
Pathway to Teaching Careers offers internships through two degree tracks: the Associate of Arts in teaching and the Associate of Applied Science in child development/early childhood education.
Child development student Zenita Sanders has been through the internship twice — once with the North Campus Lab School and then with Purpose Kids Early Childhood Learning Center.
"The internship gave me experience that I wouldn't have had until after graduation," Sanders said. "I saw the concepts I was learning in the classroom right in front of me. I learned in real time about classroom management, how to deal with a difficult child, how to engage, and in some cases what not to do."
Sanders decided to pursue an early childhood development career after experiencing issues with securing child care for her children.
"After taking in my sister's children and raising three kids of my own, I saw the struggle of finding good child care," she said. "One day I'd love to open my own center to serve my community and show kids a positive role model."
Recently, Sanders was hired by the Bezos Academy, which will bring a tuition-free, Montessori-inspired preschool to the College's North Campus in 2023.
"The real-life experience I gained through the internship helped me get the job," she said. "I talked about specific examples instead of hypotheticals in my interview, and it gave me an advantage."
Bolds only sees the program growing, with six more students submitting applications this semester.
"One of our goals is student success, and this program works toward that end," she said. "In a larger way, we are also ensuring the retention and completion of these students. The students who take part in this internship come out of it more passionate and determined than ever before, and I am excited to see the future of the program."
To learn more about San Jac's education programs, visit sanjac.edu/program/education.