About 40 UCF students took a STEP, or several steps, out of the UCF Teaching Academy, around Gemini Boulevard and toward the Reflecting Pond. The first Supporting Teacher Education Pre-Professional Walkathon took place this past Friday at 8:45 a.m. and raised money for service learning projects.
“I think STEP is one of the best-kept secrets at UCF,” STEP faculty coordinator Constance Goodman said. “Connecting students to their major as soon as they enter college is definitely a step in the right direction for colleges and universities around the country.”
The STEP program helps incoming College of Education freshmen connect with each other and get a jump-start on their classes and their experience in the education field, Goodman said. The program helps students enter the field of education and become more acquainted with their peers. It was started in 2005 in order to satisfy the growing need for highly qualified teachers entering the public school system.
According to the Florida State Board of Education, Florida school districts face the challenge of filling more than 16,000 teacher positions each school year. Even though Florida continues to experience a critical need for additional teachers, the number of graduates in teacher education is lower than it was five years ago.
STEP admits a cohort of students, and they begin taking education courses as soon as they enter UCF, Goodman said. In addition to taking common courses for the freshman year, these students also live in the residence hall together and participate in a variety of social, professional and personal development workshops during the summer, such as the Walkathon.
“This summer program really helps retain students in the College of Education and helps them decide early on that education or teaching is a good fit,” Goodman said.
The program has admitted a total of eight cohorts since it began, including this year.
The 2012 cohort is the largest admitted to UCF thus far. The past years typically had 32 students in a cohort, Goodman said. This year, 61 students were admitted, almost doubling enrollment.
Jordan Grushka, a junior peer mentor for STEP, is thankful for the assistance the program has given her and various other students.
“It gives you the opportunity to make an easier transition from high school to college,” Grushka said. “You meet a huge group of people who you’re going to work with. It’s a great opportunity.”
Grushka has been part of STEP for three years, and she is glad that she got involved.
“It is the best decision I’ve made since coming to UCF,” Grushka said.
Though it was early in the morning, the students were enthusiastic. Yudeysis Cores, an incoming freshman education major involved in STEP, was glad she could take part in the Walkathon.
“It was kind of overwhelming, but when I met with all the STEP students I felt a lot more comfortable,” Cores said. “I think if you’re an incoming freshman and you want to study education, you should definitely look into STEP.”
Another incoming freshman education student, Tedra Mason, was very excited to take part in the walk.
“I wanted to major in elementary education, and it’s a really good experience, especially for our first year in college,” Mason said.
In addition to the Walkathon, Grushka said STEP is planning future events like challenge courses to encourage team building and social interaction, movie nights and social outings.