Partnership enables students to pursue passion for education in home communities

A core value of the College of Education at East Carolina University is serving rural communities. A partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) is helping future educators fulfill that mission.

As part of its rural health initiative, Blue Cross NC invested $500,000 in the college’s Partnership Teach program.

“At Blue Cross NC, we recognize that part of improving rural health means taking a closer look at all the factors that have the greatest impact on overall health,” said Cheryl Parquet, director of community engagement and marketing activation at Blue Cross NC. “A great education provides better jobs and socioeconomic standing, which can really change the course of health in a community.”

Partnership Teach aims to increase the number of teachers in the state by offering affordable, online degree completion for students who want to teach in their hometowns. The program allows students to take courses at any North Carolina community college and transfer to ECU to complete their four-year degree in elementary, middle grades or special education.

“Partnership Teach, which recently had our 1,000th student graduate in the spring, has always valued the power and impact our students and graduates have on their home communities, many of which are rural in nature,” said Jim Kuras, College of Education director of undergraduate services. “The generous gift from Blue Cross NC puts into action support for these amazing students with the knowledge that our graduates will have a lifetime career of positively impacting the children of North Carolina.”

The investment has helped fund scholarships valued up to $10,000 per student over the length of the academic program enabling them to pursue careers they are passionate about.

Making a Difference

Brittany Robertson (Contributed photo)

Brittany Robertson can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher.

“I was always playing teacher as a kid and always knew that is what I wanted to be,” she said.

After graduating from Edgecombe Early College High School, the Tarboro native gave nursing a try to support herself and her son, but realized that teaching was in her heart.

“I love seeing the look on a child’s face when they learn something or something intrigues them,” she said. “I love the way kids admire their teachers and the way children are little sponges for information.”

Robertson has always been a Pirate fan and said she knew the university had an incredible teaching program but didn’t think she would be able to pursue a bachelor’s degree at ECU. Then, she learned about the Partnership Teach program.

“The flexibility of the part-time option and all-virtual courses drew me in,” she said. “It made me realize there was a program that I could be successful in with my busy life and being a mom.”

Being able to make a positive impact on the lives of children is important to Robertson, even if it’s just one child’s life.

“I have such a strong passion for reading and how important it is. I feel that if a child can read, they can accomplish anything, go anywhere and be successful in many areas of their lives,” she said. “I would love to start a reading program to get more kids to love reading and see how valuable it is in their lives.”

As a part of Partnership Teach, Robertson can continue living and working in her hometown of Tarboro while obtaining her bachelor’s degree. She also plans to secure a teaching position in a rural community.

“I have lived, grown up, and am raising my kids here in my small town. I cannot think of anywhere else I would rather be trying to make a difference in children’s lives than my own rural little town.”

Helping Students Excel

Eman Hanshall (Contributed photo)

A strong sense of community and family led Eman Hanshali to pursue a career in teaching in rural schools.

“It is important to me to be able to help those in need of assistance in any way that I can,” she said. “The children are the heart of this community and I want to leave an impacting imprint on them that will allow them to strive and excel in what they believe in.”

Her little sister was her inspiration. Hanshali saw how she was struggling and lacking confidence in her abilities as an English as a second language (ESL) student who was also held back in first grade. Hanshali had faith in her sister and knew that she just needed encouragement to succeed, so she worked with her to help her overcome her obstacles.

“She had finished with the most growth in her class and seeing how she was able to achieve all she did was something special for the both of us,” Hanshali said. “She was so proud of herself and what she accomplished, simply by having someone believing in her. When we remove our bias and labels from others, we are able to teach and have our students excel and exceed what they thought they never could.”

Hanshali was already at Wayne Community College when she heard about the Partnership Teach program. She knew ECU had been praised for its teaching degrees, so participating in the program just made sense to her.

After completing her degree, Hanshali wants to help ESL students achieve and work hard to excel. As an ESL student, she has seen students struggle due to the language barrier.

“Some may find those who are ESL as incapable or deficient in language; however these students are quite the opposite. They not only are balancing two or more languages but are also balancing multiple cultures and a way of life,” she said. “It’s hard for some adults to learn a new language, so it doesn’t make sense to expect a student to be able to do the same. Seeing students being able to do what some adults struggle to do is such an inspirational and amazing moment that needs to be recognized and applauded. These students bring and share their language, culture, beliefs and their identities to the classroom and it’s only fair and right that we give them the love, respect and resources they need to become the best learners they can be.”

Providing a Positive Influence

Raven Spencer (Contributed photo)

Making sure children know they are cared for drives Raven Spencer.

“I want to teach in my community or a rural area because we were the kids that often got overlooked,” Spencer said. “I’ve always said I can teach our children while they are young, that will help them know they are cared for and loved.”

The Anson County native is pursuing a degree in elementary education. After graduating from South Piedmont Community College with an associate degree while working full time, she knew she wanted to continue her education.

“I’ve always been a helper,” she said. “I loved going to school and being with my teachers. I remember how happy I was learning.”

Spencer chose ECU because of the Partnership Teach program and the flexibility it gave her.

“The Partnership Teach program allowed me to go to school for the profession I was passionate about while being a mother and working full time,” she said.

Spencer hopes to be a positive influence in the lives of rural children.

“The impact I hope to have is just knowing I’ve done my job of spreading love, laughter, sharing the knowledge I’ve gained, and creating a safe space for my students to become whatever their pure hearts desire,” she said.

Building Long-Standing Relationships

Caleb Morgan (Contributed photo)

Education runs in Caleb Morgan’s family.

“I originally did not want to pursue education coming out of high school,” he said. “However, after a stint in a local elementary during a service-learning project and then working as a volunteer at another elementary school, I had caught the bug, and I knew this was it. This is exactly what I wanted to do.”

Morgan knew that he wanted to obtain his elementary education degree entirely online while still living and working in his home of Eden.

“A long search online as well as a variety of college visits did not offer the program I was looking for,” he said. “East Carolina, through the Partnership Teach program, offered just that.”

In his current position at Northern Guilford Elementary School, Morgan sees a strong sense of community and family.

“While being a part of this community or any smaller more localized community can be intimidating to some because it is so tight knit, it is something I have come to really love and enjoy,” he said. “I am a firm believer that educators’ jobs go beyond the classroom. Once you get to know families and students on a deeper level, the opportunities for deeper relationships and long-standing partnerships are endless.”

This belief in an educator’s reach inspires Morgan to go beyond preparing students academically. As a teacher, he wants to cultivate partnerships with students and their families that will have lifelong impacts.

“What some may perceive as small gestures such as attending a student’s baseball game or theater performance, I believe go a huge way in establishing those relationships I hope to create. A child’s formative years are some of the most important years of life, and I want to be a teacher who makes it memorable for them, not only by providing them with the best possible education I can give them, but by also giving them a lifelong friendship,” he said. “Every child is different, and my wish is to be able to provide and appeal to each of them to provide them with everything and more that I can give for years to come.”

Through Partnership Teach’s history, around 1,000 students have completed teaching degrees. Of these, 89% earned their licenses and started their careers in North Carolina. The program serves all counties in North Carolina and has partnerships with 22 community and two-year colleges.