By Claudia Zequeira
The saying “it takes one to know one” applies perfectly to Ellen Costello, manager, teacher preparation, Educator Prep Institute.
Years ago, Ellen was a psychology major who decided being a K-12 teacher was her calling. But making the leap to education, an entirely different profession, was made possible thanks to an educator preparation institute she attended in Washington, D.C., her former home.
Today, she is paying it forward at Valencia College by leading significant changes to the Education Preparation Institute, or EPI, as it’s usually referred to at the College. The EPI program offers an alternative pathway to teaching for people whose bachelor’s degree is in a subject other than education. It uses a combination of classroom experience and general courses in basic pedagogy that help provide a foundation for aspiring teachers and also helps prepare them for one of several state teacher certification exams.
“Alternative certification programs are a great pathway for people who have diverse interests but who have a love of teaching or have found a calling,” she said. “We have a number of folks who come to us to change careers, and the EPI program provides that access.”
Ellen has more than 20 years of experience in the classroom, both at the K-12 and college level. In addition, she serves as a mentor and presenter for the Horizons Scholars program and serves on the Parramore Education and Innovation District (PEID) Teacher Recruitment and Retention Committee, which is collaborating with the University of Central Florida, Valencia and Orange County Public Schools on a Pathways to Teaching virtual expo scheduled for Thursday, April 1, 2021.
But the institute, which she began leading in 2018, has become “her baby.”
Over the past 18 months, Ellen and a team of colleagues have endeavored to revamp the program. The effort, which will roll out in the fall, came about after internal conversations at the College and after changes in state requirements for educators.
Ellen and the team in charge of redesigning the EPI regularly met on Zoom last year to accomplish the task. In the photo, clockwise from top left: Ellen; Susan Dunn, dean, behavioral and social science; Clair Yates, faculty development and instructional designer; and Rhonda Atkinson, professor, education.
Although students can still complete the program in the same amount of time — it takes anywhere from three semesters to three years to finish it — course content is different and will go from offering institutional credits to offering for-college-credit courses moving forward.
“We’re opening it up to a broader range of students so that we will still have those alternative certification candidates, but also people interested in learning more about a student-centered learning environment who would be able to take the classes as well,” said Ellen. “This is in addition to teaching recertification folks [who need to maintain their professional credentials].”
The program’s new curriculum will also offer students the first four competencies of Florida’s reading endorsement. Ellen hopes to add a fifth course that will complete participants’ full reading endorsement requirements.
In addition, the program took a close look at Valencia’s Rubric for Online Competencies (ROC), which pushes for best practices online, something local school districts indicated they wanted in their new recruits, and changed the number of credit hours required from 26 to 24 to meet state and school district partner needs.
A sample of one of the many curriculum changes Ellen and her colleagues developed when they could still meet in person. After the pandemic caused campus closures, the team moved all of its collaborative work online.
Courses are also now infused with “sustainable and culturally relevant” pedagogy throughout, promoting concepts and actions of equity, opportunity and access for students from diverse racial and ethnic communities.
Ellen hopes all these new changes help create better teachers for tomorrow and meet partner districts’ demands for quality educators.
“This was a lot of pieces sort of coming together, so that it seemed opportune at the time to say ‘let’s start this revision and make it something Valencia can continue to be proud of,” she said.
Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight.