ECU partners with UNC System schools for future teacher symposium

A partnership between East Carolina University, UNC Wilmington and UNC Pembroke allowed North Carolina high school students to experience life as a college student and explore the world of teacher education.

The Future Teachers of North Carolina (FTNC) Symposium is an initiative created by the UNC System, with the state office providing funding and guidelines for universities to follow. ECU was selected as the host site for the eastern symposium. This initiative built upon a similar program the ECU College of Education held last summer called the Pirate Institute for Rural Aspiring Teacher Educators.

Charity Cayton, associate professor of mathematics education, discusses the program with a Future Teachers of North Carolina participant.

Charity Cayton, associate professor of mathematics education, discusses the program with a Future Teachers of North Carolina participant. (ECU photos by Kristen Martin)

“It was great to have university partners this year, as it allowed us to broaden our reach and take advantage of the additional expertise when planning,” said Dionna Manning, director of ECU’s education community of scholars and education living learning community (ELLC). “Additionally, it allowed the participants the opportunity to interact and hear information from multiple UNC system schools.”

Almost 150 high school students attended the two sessions in June. Current education majors and recent graduates served as staff members, leaders and mentors for the program. In addition to being a larger scale event, the symposium had two key differences from last year’s events: the opportunity to stay overnight in one of ECU’s residence halls and a workshop for returning participants.

“Some of the students at the Future Teachers event were returning students from last year’s event who just graduated high school,” said Lexi Lozner, a special education major and Honors College student. “They shared with me that last year’s event and acceptance into the education living learning community was pivotal in their decision to attend ECU. The ability to influence that type of commitment to education and grow the profession is something that is very exciting for me.”

Allie Schmitt was one of those returning participants who will be starting her ECU journey this fall. She said that the future teachers events made her feel connected to the university and gave her insight as to what the program would be like.

“I think seeing the community I would be joining made choosing ECU extremely easy,” she said. “It became clear that my values were mirrored within the ELLC, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

During the symposium, participants learned more about the three participating universities and the education field in general, toured ECU’s campus, talked to representatives from different educator preparation programs and prepared a lesson to teach to their fellow students. In addition to the educational activities, participants had time to form connections with each other and the ECU student leaders.

Science education alumnus Treshawn Penny, standing, helps Future Teachers of North Carolina participants with lesson planning.

Science education alumnus Treshawn Penny, standing, helps Future Teachers of North Carolina participants with lesson planning.

Education major and FTNC staff member Sophie Zeldin’s favorite moment of the event happened before the closing ceremony when participants and staff walked around with paper plates and signed them like yearbooks.

“Even though the groups were only with each other for two days, it was amazing to see how close they had gotten to each other,” she said. “After each session, it warmed my heart to read my own plate.”

For first-time participants, FTNC helped them learn everything that goes into becoming a teacher and stoked their passion for the field. Emmy Brandenburg, a rising junior at J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, developed her interest in teaching due to her grandfather.

“My grandfather was in the education system for years. He loved every moment of it and would tell so many stories,” Brandenburg said. “He was my built-in best friend and I lost him June of 2021. I want to continue my love of teaching in honor of him.”

Brandenburg noted that she learned more about how many details and relationships go into being a teacher as well as the different fields and majors available to teachers.

The event was not only educational for the high school students in attendance, but also for the current ECU education majors.

“I am currently a secondary math education major so getting a chance to work on leadership with that age group was extremely helpful,” Zeldin said. “We had an excellent group of student and graduate FTNC leaders, and we all worked closely together to pull off the event. Working with your peers is such an important skill to have, especially in teaching.”

Lozner added that being a staff member at both events was a privilege and she enjoyed supporting and encouraging other prospective future teachers.

Conversations with the FTNC participants didn’t end with the event’s closing ceremony. ECU education students are keeping in touch with participants, serving as mentors and keeping the teacher education conversation ongoing.

“We are truly creating a pipeline for high school students interested in teacher education,” Manning said. “We want to see these participants enrolled in our teacher education programs within the next few years and also want to help provide financial support, in addition to the social support. We hope to continue with the program for years to come, bigger and better each year!”