Expanding Learning

First grade students at Arthur Smith Elementary in Grandview are hitting the books.

Classes are divided among 4 teachers, 3 of whom are aspiring teachers who are still in college.

For student candidate Jennifer Lopez, it's also a learning experience.

"It's awesome because  you're working with the core team," said Lopez, "I get to bounce off ideas with the main teacher and also from the other candidates."

Students at Heritage University are taking part in this special teaching program across Yakima County.

Because it has been so successful, it will soon expand to Benton and Franklin Counties as well.

The program, HU105, gives teaching candidates the opportunity to apply their studies by placing them in classrooms, working with younger students.

"It's a two-year program, you're in the classroom 4 days a week, so it's constantly changing," said teaching candidate Mike Kirk, "The best way to learn is hands on."

The program started four years ago in Mount Adams and Mabton school districts, then expanded to Toppenish and Yakima.

Grandview was added at the beginning of the school year, and administrators say the impact can be felt on the grade school students test scores, which have gone up.

"I do accredit that to having a bunch of passionate adults in the classroom, all working towards closing that gap," said school Principal Jared Lind.

Because of the program's success, Heritage has decided to expand, next year the university will be sending students to schools in Richland, Marcus Whitman and Jefferson elementaries -- not only giving them the chance to reach more students, but also provide more opportunities for aspiring educators.

"The connection we get to have, how we get to impact each one of their lives, in not just in teaching, but in different areas, to me is what really keeps me going," said Lopez.

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