Grow Your Own (GYO) teacher programs are partnerships between school districts, institutions of higher education, and community-based organizations to recruit and prepare community members to become teachers in local schools (Gist et al., 2019). GYO programs are associated with positive outcomes for teachers, students, and their communities–especially for diverse student populations (Clewell & Villegas, 2001; Gist et al., 2019; Lau et al., 2007). Additionally, these programs are a key strategy to address the bilingual teacher shortage.
GYO Program Types
There are two primary types of GYO programs: 1) programs focused on adult participants and 2) programs focused on creating pathways for students.
- Programs focused on adults involve supporting paraeducators with 2- or 4-year degrees through scholarships or comprehensive programs comprising financial assistance, test preparation, and embedded learning. Scholarships have wider reach, while comprehensive programs are often limited to specific school districts (Motamedi et al., 2017).
- Student pathway programs support high school students on their path to becoming teachers through dual-enrollment opportunities, scholarships, and incentives to teach in their state or home community upon graduating (Aragon, 2018, 2019; Lau et al., 2007).
Preliminary reports suggest student pathway programs are a more effective strategy than adult-focused programs (Grow Your Own Teachers Initiatives Resources, 2018). However, more research is needed to evaluate cost, licensure rates, program completion, and number of teachers produced.
GYO Program Outcomes
GYO programs are associated with positive outcomes for students, teachers, and their communities.
- Students benefit from having familiarity with the university and school district prior to entry into the program, allowing certain programming to exist for recruitment and student retention in teacher preparation programs (Aragon, 2018).
- This is especially important for children who are classified as Dual Language Learners and English Learners (DLLs/ELs; de Brey et al., 2018). DLLs and ELs are a growing segment of the US student population and are best served in bilingual/dual language immersion programs that continue growth in their home language, support their English learning, and value their culture. Currently, the country is not producing enough bilingual educators to meet the needs of DLLs and ELs (Garcia & Garza, 2019).
- GYO programs provide opportunities for ethnically and linguistically diverse individuals already working within school districts. Without such opportunities, these individuals might not otherwise get opportunities to become teachers, which contributes to diversifying the educator workforce and addressing the opportunity gap (Garcia, 2017; Osterling & Buchanan, 2003).
- As community members become teachers, partnerships with students and parents may be able to be created with more ease. Having educators who understand the strengths and needs of the community and are invested in students can create a long-term positive impact on the US education system (Cuellar, 2015; Garcia, 2020; Ni & Rorrer, 2018).
Schools need well-trained and critically conscious teachers who are committed to educating diverse students. GYO programs might offer a path for addressing this need, as well as increasing the racial and linguistic diversity of the educator workforce. As with any program, the impact of GYO programs on outcomes depends on many factors that should be considered.
- The highly localized nature of GYO programs likely contributes to their effectiveness, but this also means there is substantial variation across program design, reliance on partnerships, and the funding and training quality offered to GYO participants.
- A total of 27 states have a GYO focused policy (i.e., a statute, bill, or executive order), but funding for GYO programs is inconsistent. 18 of these states currently fund some type of GYO program (Garcia, 2021). Of those, 7 states currently fund a competitive grant program designed to incentivize school district and educator preparation partnerships to develop and implement GYO programs.
- The number of programs funded at the district level outnumbers those that are funded by state investments.
- More research is needed to examine the outcomes of different types of GYO programs, including their cost and return on investment, as well as their long-term impacts on teacher mentorship and retention.