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More of a Professional Than a Student

Charter Alumna returns to North Idaho STEM Charter Academy to teach

by Kristen McCarver

“I love seeing their faces every day, and especially love seeing their excitement.”

Paige Pence is a third-year Kindergarten teacher at North Idaho STEM Charter Academy in Rathdrum. She’s also a school alumna.

Teaching was always on the table as a career path for Paige. Her interest was piqued when North Idaho STEM offered an opportunity for students to serve as teaching assistants as a high school elective. Curious to try teaching on for size, she began her journey working with first-graders.

The experience removed any doubt that teaching was her calling. In fact, she “really fell in love with it.” She found that she “loved their little curious minds, and helping them learn to read.”

Because North Idaho STEM offers dual-credit opportunities, Paige finished high school as part of the school’s inaugural graduating class with an Associate’s Degree, and went straight to Whitworth University to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education.

During breaks between terms at Whitworth, Paige once again practiced her craft at North Idaho STEM; where Administrator Scott Thomson offered opportunities for her to substitute teach. According to Paige, this is how the school came to see her as “more of a professional than a student.”

Though she experienced student teaching at a variety of school types and grades, the mission-driven focus of charters drew her home to her alma mater.

As the school made the decision to begin offering full-day kindergarten, Paige was a freshly-graduated educator, and she was excited about the opportunity to help shape young, curious minds. She was enthusiastic about teaching kindergarten, because “especially in kindergarten, everything is exciting. Just being able to foster their love for learning, and get them started on the right track….I love it.”

She remembers her first day teaching: “I’m in this room, by myself, with all these kids…” It is also worth noting that this was at the height of the Covid pandemic in the fall of 2020. It was an unusual time for educators and students alike.

But she has found strong mentors and a wealth of support among her teaching peers, and “they really helped me prepare myself for the upcoming year.”

This supportive team environment is what “drives the atmosphere” at North Idaho STEM. Because the school is mission-focused, each team member knows what they’re collectively working toward. This atmosphere is what drew Paige back to the school.

Now, in her third year, Paige is most excited about “getting more in a groove” with her teaching. And she’s not short on passion for the task at hand.

“I really love it. It gives me great fulfillment in life. I strive for the days when the kids start grasping the material I’m teaching. In the beginning of the year, they come in not knowing much, and by the end of the year they’re reading, adding, subtracting, and telling time! I just love seeing that growth.”

Paige is one of several charter school alumni to return to their alma mater as an educator. These former students make a natural transition to educators, as they are already accustomed to the mission and culture of the school. Idaho maintains its status among the fastest growing states and will inevitably need more teachers. What can schools learn from the experiences of these students to provide future students with earlier opportunities to explore a career as an educator?

North Idaho STEM Charter Academy is a Bluum portfolio school and has received grant support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

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