Sweet Briar to offer new undergraduate degree in elementary education

Outdoor class
Sweet Briar students Rachel Barnes ’20 (standing) and Kendall Nicely ’21 teach elementary school children during Outdoor Classroom Day last November.

Beginning in Fall 2019, Sweet Briar College students can earn a four-year degree in elementary education, thanks to bills passed by Virginia’s 2018 General Assembly. Students will still be able to opt for a comprehensive five-year Master of Arts in Teaching degree, which the College has been offering since 2004.

“Elementary teaching requires interdisciplinary thinking,” says Meredith McCool, director of Sweet Briar College’s education program. “This new major will allow future elementary teachers to engage in coursework across the College, while at the same time honing their practice in local schools. And at the end of four or five years, they will graduate with a diploma that clearly states their passion: elementary education.”

Sweet Briar is one of several colleges and universities in the state to start offering undergraduate degrees in education. Governor Ralph Northam announced on Monday that the state policy boards for elementary, secondary and post-secondary education have approved a total of 53 new teacher preparation programs and 25 new degrees that will allow graduates to become teachers after earning four-year degrees in education.

“We must remain focused on meeting the growing needs of our public education system to prepare the Commonwealth’s students for success and secure Virginia’s economic future,” Governor Northam said in a release. “As we work to strengthen Virginia’s educator pipeline, I am pleased to see the approval of these comprehensive changes that will create new pathways to the classroom and help increase both the supply and the diversity of quality teachers in the Commonwealth.”

Outdoor Classroom Day
Sweet Briar’s education program director Meredith McCool (center) with M.A.T. candidate Emily Hawk ’18 (M.A.T. ’19) and elementary school kids during Outdoor Classroom Day 2018.

On May 14, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) approved new degree programs at seven of the Commonwealth’s public institutions of higher education. The Board of Education, which sets standards for all teacher preparation programs in the state, followed with its approval of the new public preparation programs on June 20. The board also approved new preparation programs at eight private colleges and universities, including Sweet Briar.

“Eliminating the barrier of extra years of schooling traditionally required for teacher licensure will encourage more students to pursue teaching careers,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “I am excited to see this increase in quality teachers impact the Commonwealth’s students for years to come.”

Board of Education President Daniel Gecker is thankful to lawmakers for their quick response to a growing need in Virginia’s public school system. “I believe that increasing the number of four-year routes to the classroom will lead to an increase in the number of men and women choosing teaching as a career and eventually to an easing of the teacher shortage.”

The new degree programs at Sweet Briar College and other Virginia institutions were created in response to legislation approved by the 2018 General Assembly. The legislation broadened the definition of teacher preparation programs in the commonwealth to include programs culminating in four-year degrees in education, in addition to programs resulting in bachelor’s degrees in the arts and sciences.

“Right now, Virginia teachers are in high demand but in short supply,” said SCHEV Director Peter Blake. “This new streamlined approach will improve Virginia’s production of qualified teachers. We are grateful to the institutions for recognizing the need and moving rapidly to address it.”

To learn more about Sweet Briar, visit sbc.edu/admissions. For more information about Sweet Briar’s education program, visit sbc.edu/social-sciences-and-humanities/education or email McCool at mmccool@sbc.edu.