GREAT Teachers in Training

Rachel Pless working with a BCMS student

The Barrow County School System is excited to have Rachel Pless and Dr. Cheryl Cistulli working in our schools as GREAT residency students.

The Georgia Residency for Educating Amazing Teachers (GREAT) program recruits individuals with a bachelor’s degree from a STEM-related field to serve in high-need classrooms. The GREAT program helps reduce barriers for professionals to transition into the field of education and provides school systems with a pipeline of teachers in critical subject areas. This innovative program helps eliminate financial barriers associated with certification while providing a robust training experience to become a teacher.

In the GREAT program, aspiring teachers are placed in a middle school classroom (grades 6-8) for one year. During that time, they receive hands-on training in the classroom with a mentor-teacher, similar to a traditional student-teaching experience. However, unlike student-teaching, students are paid a first-year teacher’s salary and receive full healthcare benefits through the grant.

Rachel Pless is working this year at Bear Creek Middle School. She completed her undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Georgia in Environmental Economics. After completing a year with AmeriCorps and working in school gardens, she became interested in teaching. “I loved to see the ‘click of learning’ in the students I worked with,” she shared. Ms. Pless is looking forward to teaching science and using her school’s garden to make that connection of learning for her future students.

At Haymon-Morris Middle School, Dr. Cheryl Cistulli brings two lifetimes of professional experience to the classroom, along with her passion for science. Dr. Cistulli earned her Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Pathology, which led her to research breast cancer molecules for 10 years at the National Institute for Environmental Sciences. Ready for a change, she then completed her J.D. at the University of Georgia and practiced patent law. After witnessing the impact of the pandemic on education, Dr. Cistulli wanted to inspire students to pursue STEM careers. She recalls fondly her 6th grade science teacher, “She is THE reason that I pursued science as a career.” Now Dr. Cistulli is working to do the same for students at HMMS. Her goal is to get students excited about science with hands-on, active learning.

In addition to teaching full-time, GREAT students take classes in the evenings to earn their Master of Arts in Teaching. This approach provides a path to certification and essential training necessary to be a successful classroom teacher.

Alternative certification paths exist for professionals to become teachers, but they often provide limited or no classroom training. While industry professionals bring an immense amount of knowledge and real-world experience to the classroom, many often find it difficult to quickly learn the skills needed to be successful as a teacher – effective instructional methods, how to create an assessment, and classroom management skills, to name a few. The GREAT program provides aspiring teachers with both classroom training and financial support.

Once students successfully complete their GREAT program, they are hired by the school system where they served and will teach for the next three years.

The Georgia Residency for Educating Amazing Teachers (GREAT) initiative was developed through a partnership by Georgia College & State University and the Southern Regional Education Board. The U.S. Department of Education awarded the Southern Regional Education Board a $5.3 million, five-year Teacher Quality Partnership grant to create the residency-based teacher preparation program to recruit undergraduate STEM majors who aspire to become math and science teachers.

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