Over a six-year span, Rend Lake College’s Cooperative Work-Study Program has produced nearly 100 new teachers, many of whom now teach in the RLC district, according to Ed Ruffino, Director of the Center for Business Services.
For Fiscal Year 2006, Rend Lake College has been awarded a $92,000 Work-Study Grant from the Illinois Board of Higher Education – more than any other community college in the state. This is the same amount which was awarded to RLC last year, but in light of the state’s financial situation, organizers were thrilled with the grant.
At RLC, the Cooperative Work-Study Program is designed primarily to enable Education and related majors a chance to practice in their chosen fields.
“For our students,” said Ruffino, “the primary benefit is the fact it gives education majors a first-hand opportunity to see if teaching really is what they want to do for a career. The academic and professional work experience is tremendous. It also helps our students pay for their college educations and earn college credit.”
The Center for Business Services recently completed a survey of former Work-Study students. Of the 178 students responding, 116 (65 percent) have earned a bachelor’s degree, and 108 (93 percent) of those received a Bachelor’s in Education. Of those responding to the survey, 93 are now working as teachers and 31 of those have careers in the Rend Lake College district.
Robin Aaron, a former Work-Study student, recently told members of the RLC Board of Trustees about her experiences.
“I owe a huge part of my career success to co-op,” Aaron said. A non-traditional student, Aaron was placed as an aide to Sandra Gilliam at Ina Grade School after signing up with the Work-Study program. She said she was given multiple duties in what she called “the defining time of her career.”
Aaron said the Work-Study program proved to her that “teaching was really what I wanted to do.” She said she was able to visit several grades at the school and found she wanted to teach at the middle-school level. Aaron is now teaching at Ina Grade School in the same class in which she did her work-study.
According to Ruffino, even if a work-study student discovers teaching is not what he or she wants to do, it is still a positive experience because the student then knows to look into other career options.
Cooperative education, commonly referred to as co-op, on-job training or internship, is a method of instruction that provides an opportunity for students to be employed in their fields of study and earn college credit for their work, Ruffino explained.
According to Ruffino, the primary objectives of the ICWS program are to benefit students academically and financially, to reduce reliance on student loans through added income, to enhance public-private partnerships and to encourage students to seek permanent employment in Illinois.
Students are paid a minimum of $6.50 per hour, and the Work-Study Grant money reimburses the employer $3.25 per hour. Students can earn income to pay college costs, gain experience in their career fields and earn up to eight college credits through participation in the program.
“Most students participate for two semesters,” Ruffino said. “Every bit of the $92,000 goes to student wages.”
Area schools participating in the RLC Cooperative Work-Study Grant Program include Benton Consolidated High School, Benton District 47, Bethel Grade School, Bluford District 114, Christopher Unit District 99, Dodds District 7, Ewing-Northern District 115, Farrington Grade School, Field District 3, Hamilton County Schools, Ina Grade School, McClellan School, Mt. Vernon District 80, Opdyke-Belle Rive Grade School, Pinckneyville District 204, Rome District 2, Sesser-Valier Schools, Summersville District 79, Thompsonville Grade School and Woodlawn District 4.
“We are the only community college that uses our program to prepare teachers,” said Ruffino. “The superintendents in the area schools appreciate it.”
Ruffino said Rend Lake College’s Work-Study students often earn more experience and take on more responsibilities than students in educational observation classes at the university level.
The Cooperative Education Work-Study Grant Program is open to students who have completed at least 12 semester hours of college credit and have a grade-point average of 2.0 or better. Students must be making demonstrable progress toward their selected majors.
For more information on the Illinois Cooperative Work-Study Program, contact the Center for Business Services at (618) 437-5321, Ext. 1714, or call toll-free (in-district only) at 1-800-369-5321, Ext. 1714.