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Peoria Public Schools fills teaching vacancies with Grow Your Own program, international teachers

Mike Rundle

The Grow Your Own Teacher program at Peoria Public Schools will add four more graduates by the end of the current school year.

At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, Grow Your Own Coordinator Linda Wilson presented an update to the board, sharing that the program will reach ten total graduates come spring.

With an overall goal of recruiting and retaining teachers in the Peoria area, the program is a branch of the central Grow Your Own Teachers program based in Chicago. By partnering with school districts and higher education institutions, the initiative aims to diversify teaching populations across the state.

The program became a state initiative in 2004, and each branch receives funding from the State of Illinois each year. With that funding, Grow Your Own is able to offer up to $25,000 of tuition assistance, among other social supports, to each participating candidate. Wilson says that that assistance is essential for the candidates, and echoes the overall goal of the program.

“We like to meet our candidates where they’re at,” said Wilson. “Sometimes, our candidates don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves, and we just want them to know that we’re here to knock down any barrier that may present itself on their journey.”

Maria Vargas, a Manual High School alumna, is a program participant who is set to graduate in December.

“It’s been a life-long dream of mine to become a teacher,” said Vargas. “I came to the United States at the age of five…I’m proud to say with the mentorship and financial support of Grow Your Own, I will achieve my dream of becoming a teacher.”

Following the presentation, board member Gregory Wilson advocated for making Wilson’s coordinator position a full-time role. Superintendent Dr. Sharon Kherat supports the idea.

“[It’s a] very uplifting program,” said Kherat. “We talked about, down the road, definitely looking to expand that role.”

District 150 has also been tapping an international teacher pool to fill vacancies at a number of schools. Following the Grow Your Own presentation, Kherat shared that up to 25 new international teachers may be on their way to Peoria.

Kherat says the new group includes individuals from Guyana, Jamaica, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Philippines, and that they might be arriving as early as January.

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Mike Rundle is a correspondent at WCBU. He joined the station in 2020.