Karianne Still wakes up at 7 a.m. every day and heads to Vickery Creek Elementary School.
She spends each morning in a different classroom from kindergarten to third grade, helping students in small groups and individually.
“She’s a local hero at our school. The kids love her,” said Derrick Hershey, assistant principal.
Then after two or three hours teaching, Still returns to West Forsyth High School for her real job as a senior student.
“I’ve been so stressed with finals and mid-terms and when I walk in here, it’s just a sense of relief,” Still said of Vickery Creek. “I’m just so excited to be here. They’re a joy to be around.”
Still is one of more than 160 high school students in the Forsyth County system who spend part of their days in the district’s elementary schools discovering what it’s like to be a teacher.
Most of them are enrolled in the district’s Career Pathway program, which matches nearly 2,000 high school students with hands-on programs that give them a taste of a possible future career.
About 10 different fields, ranging from culinary arts and engineering to marketing and information technology, are involved.
“These are our programs that really excite kids to want to stay in school and stay engaged,” said Valery Hall, the system’s governance and career development coordinator.
“A lot of kids who might not find meaning in academics, a lot of times can make a substantial and meaningful connection to a career and here they can see what it would look like in terms of their future.”
Forsyth Central senior Katie Percell first learned of the program last year through a flyer.
She started as a junior spending a few hours in Sandy Harrison’s kindergarten classroom at Sawnee Elementary. She currently works with Harrison in first grade.
“I never had anything like this when I was in high school,” Harrison said. “It’s good especially to know before you get into college and start making that commitment. Because sometimes people get into college and they’ve already taken the classes and then they decide they don’t want to do it.
“So hopefully this is giving her a chance to really see what it’s like on a day-to-day basis and decide if that’s what she wants to do.”
That’s not an issue for Purcell, for whom the experience has “actually just made me more excited.”
“I wanted to be a psychiatrist and now I’ve decided to go into teaching instead of that, so it’s actually given me a career [decision],” Purcell said.
“Working with the kids is preparing me on what I’m going to have to do and how to be a good teacher. I actually get to test them. I’m doing teacher roles instead of making copies and sharpening pencils and stuff.”
Purcell, who Harrison said is “a natural with the kids,” is earning high school credit for her classroom time through the Career Pathways program.
For Still, working in the classroom is strictly a volunteer experience, since the education career pathway is not offered at West.
Because she’s ahead in school credits, however, Still has been able to help at Vickery during her first two class periods. It’s a decision she’s glad she made.
“Ever since I was in kindergarten, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” said Still, who was a kindergartener at Vickery the year the school opened.
“I wanted to give back because they gave so much to me education-wise and with support, so I thought I’d come back and give back to all the kids.”
Among the classes with which Still works is Tina Kersey’s first grade.
“I count on her when she comes in [every Tuesday],” said Kersey, who added that Still is a self-starter who shows maturity and confidence in how quickly she’s been able to handle the workload.
She also recalled how many of her peers in college had dropped out of teaching once they had to start applying what they learned to an actual classroom.
According to Kersey, Still will be “head and shoulders above the other kids that are going to be walking into their first year in the classroom.”
“Whoever starts interning with her is going to be extremely surprised with the level of skills she’s already going to bring to the table,” Kersey said. “She’s going to have a great head start.”