OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – The Osceola County school district superintendent said students can expect to see some new faces at the start of the school year thanks to an international program that’s getting results for them and bringing diversity into the classroom.
“We want all of our students to feel safe and welcomed in our classrooms, and when they see role models that reflect their own background, their own culture and experience, it can really make a difference,” Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace said.
[TRENDING: Florida gas prices continue to fall, reaching lowest price since March | In this Florida city, when drivers go the wrong way, most don’t crash. Here’s why | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]
That difference comes in the form of a special program for the almost 70,000 students who are getting ready for their first day back to school.
“We’ve been using a contract out of Asia with a firm called EPI, and we’re up to over 30 teachers. There are about 18 new ones this year,” Pace said.
Now, the school district is eyeing South America.
“Well, (through) our South American contract, we’ve been able to hire about 30 teachers who are fully certified like our teachers. They need the same type of requirements, but they get to come here for a few years on a transfer program or exchange program,” the superintendent said.
The program was developed through an agency called Educational Partners International, an exchange visitor program that sponsors teachers for K-12 placements in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida.
Dr. Pace, a native of Osceola County, said it’s about addressing the need for more teachers and better representation in the classrooms.
“We’re really just trying to be creative because there is still such a need for teachers to fill our classrooms, and with the growth that we have here in our school district, we really see the need so strong,” she said.
The 2020 U.S. Census shows that of Osceola County’s population of 388,000, 56% of those people are Hispanic or Latino — making it the county with the largest population of that minority group in Central Florida.
Dr. Pace told News 6 the exchange program is just one way to address the teacher shortage.
“Our exchange program for teachers not only brings in certified teachers when they’re sometimes hard to find because we’re competing with everybody else in Central Florida for a very small number coming out of our education programs or desiring to go into the field of education, but it does help us diversify our staff and better represent the population that we serve,” she said. “We’re strengthening our alternative certification programs, but certainly, doing the international program allows us to accomplish several objectives.”
Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily: