DENTON (UNT), Texas -- As Kelly Robinson encouraged her four children to pursue higher education she was reminded of her own desire to earn a college degree.
"The whole time I was raising my kids I was telling them to ‘go to college, go to college, go to college,' and they'd say ‘you didn't go to college mom,' and my response was always ‘well I am sorry that I didn't,'" says Robinson.
The opportunity to pursue her dream arose in 2006, while helping her youngest daughter study for a placement exam for dual enrollment courses. As she reviewed the material, she began to think maybe she could take the exam herself. After taking the four-hour exam and waiting what seemed like forever for the results, Robinson discovered she had received a near-perfect reading score and a very high math score.
"That was motivating. I thought maybe I can do it after all. All that time I had thought that I couldn't go to college because I'd been out of high school for so long," says Robinson.
The next semester Robinson began taking courses at Grayson County College in Denison, Texas. At Grayson, Robinson's lifelong love of math was renewed and a new passion for teaching was ignited by her work in the tutoring center.
Robinson excelled at Grayson, and was encouraged to transfer to UNT by one of her professors, an alumna of UNT. Upon arriving at UNT in 2010, Robinson enrolled in Teach North Texas, a collaborative effort between UNT's College of Education and College of Arts and Sciences that allows students to earn a degree in math, science or a related field while also earning a teaching certificate.
The TNT program partners students with area school districts providing them with opportunities to gain firsthand teaching experience. As early as their freshmen year, students will take courses in the professional development sequence that emphasizes field experiences, teaching strategies and concepts related specifically to the subjects the students will teach.
Robinson's professors say that she is a natural teacher, who is able to integrate her own experiences into the classroom. She even developed a lesson plan explaining how the different habitats of animals can affect the food products those animals produce, using products from her own farm in Pilot Point.
This semester, Robinson completed her apprentice teaching at Boyd High School in McKinney. She will graduate magna cum laude during the 7 p.m. commencement ceremony on Dec. 16 (Friday), along with 16 other TNT graduates.
"When I walk across the stage, I am going to be thinking about my grandmother. She only got to go to school through eighth grade, and then they were going to charge $4 bus fee for her to go to high school. Her family couldn't afford the fee, so she had to drop out of school," says Robinson. "So, I have extra bit of appreciation because of my grandmother."
Robinson says her kids are very proud of her achievements, and have made plans to attend her graduation. After graduation, Robinson hopes to find a full-time job teaching high school math.
Teach North Texas is based on the innovative UTeach model developed at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997. UNT was one of 13 universities nationwide to receive a replication grant by the UTeach Institute in 2008. Teach North Texas was initiated with a $1.4 million grant from the Greater Texas Foundation, and the National Math and Science Initiative will contribute an additional $1 million if matching funds are raised by 2012.
The UTeach programs, including TNT, were created to meet the state and national need for qualified mathematics and science teachers and to improve the quality of math and science instruction in secondary schools. According to a 2007 report by the National Academy of Sciences, approximately 30 percent of math and science teachers do not have appropriate certification.
The program's curriculum begins with two free, for-credit courses in which students teach elementary and middle school students three times each semester under the direction of experienced classroom teachers. Candidates have field experience in area high schools in more advanced courses, including the final semester of student teaching.
Another key aspect of the program is candidates' interaction with UNT faculty master teachers, who are experienced high school teachers hired by UNT to teach courses, supervise field work and offer real-world advice to the future teachers. The program also offers support-services to all graduates during their first year of teaching.