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The Michigan Alternate Route to Certification expanded its teacher certification program to include prospective educators who have a bachelor’s degree in any concentration area. M-ARC is a hybrid program that helps certify current educators to teach new academic subjects and those who are not yet educators to work toward their certification. Established in 2010, M-ARC has certified about 230 metro Detroit teachers in the past 12 years, making it the longest running state-approved alternative route to teacher certification.

M-ARC Program Manager Karen Young said M-ARC was created in 2010 in response to a need for educators across Michigan.

“(M-ARC) was initially created because, even as early as 2010, the state of Michigan was experiencing a lack of teachers,” Young said. “One way that Michigan decided to address this lack of teachers was to create this route to where we can get people who already have a bachelor’s degree a teaching certificate faster to get them in the classroom to fill these gaps.”

Teacher shortages were a growing concern in Michigan before the COVID-19 pandemic, which only exacerbated challenges in Michigan’s education system. According to the Wall Street Journal, the rate of education employees quitting their profession rose 148% between January 2020 and November 2020.

Jean Mrachko, the associate director of M-ARC, said she hopes by expanding M-ARC’s available pathways, the program can help mitigate teacher shortages in local school districts, including Ann Arbor Public Schools

Mrachko said M-ARC’s new structure includes three pathways. The Additional Endorsement pathway allows teachers to gain endorsements in new academic subjects while teaching in the classroom, while the Teach For America-Detroit Partnership pathway supports current Teach For America corps members in Detroit pursuing a certification in teaching. M-ARC also recently added an Initial Certification pathway, which allows any Michigan resident with a bachelor’s degree to get their teaching certification without prior classroom experience.

Mrachko said the mission of the new Initial Certification pathway is encouraging individuals who might not want to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree to consider a teaching career.

“Our mission (at M-ARC) is to prepare individuals throughout Michigan to be highly qualified teachers for Michigan students and to open access to the teaching profession for people who may not be able to participate in a traditional bachelor’s or master’s program,” Mrachko said.

Despite being an “Alternate Route” for getting a teaching certification, Young said the training process is extremely thorough. She said during the three years prospective educators are in the program, they learn from U-M School of Education instructors while simultaneously addressing the teacher shortage in local school districts.

“The important part about this program…  is that (M-ARC participants) don’t just get their teaching certificate quickly and then they’re done,” Young said. “It’s actually a three year long program, so it’s very similar to a traditional program. It’s just reversed, in that (the participants) get their teaching certificate first to get them in the classroom to help fill these gaps. Then, we support them along the way, giving them additional learning, and all of that makes them a strong teacher.”

Brennah Grace Donahue participated in M-ARC in 2018 in the Teach for America-Detroit Partnership pathway, completing it in three years while she was teaching in the classroom. Donahue said being in M-ARC was a valuable experience since it allowed her to apply her bachelor’s degree towards a new career in education.

“I received my undergraduate degree in Cultural and Global Studies and without M-ARC, I probably would not have been as likely to contemplate entering the field of education,” Donahue said. “(M-ARC) is alternative in nature, but it really provides an opportunity for individuals with diverse backgrounds to enter into the field of education. And I think that’s a real asset for the state of Michigan.”

Mrachko said M-ARC has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by pivoting to virtual instruction for the coursework and focusing on online teaching strategies, as many of the participants in the program are currently teaching online.

“We’re supporting teachers who are sometimes now teaching online, which is a new environment for them and for us, and then we are providing our services primarily online now,” Mrachko said.

However, Mrachko said the pandemic was not the primary reason M-ARC chose to create the new Initial Certification pathway. Mrachko said it is likely the pathway would have been implemented even if the pandemic had not happened. Still, Mrachko said, she hopes the pathway will help support schools as they grapple with pandemic-related staff shortages.

“It was felt that it was time that we really could expand (M-ARC) …  it wasn’t necessarily because of COVID, but COVID is a factor,” Mrachko said. “There are so many schools that need teachers that it’s kind of just a natural progression to be able to offer this.”

LSA senior Alex Walkon is the Executive Director of Opportunities to Educate Children, a student organization facilitating tutoring in K-12 school districts throughout Washtenaw County. Walkon said the new M-ARC certification pathway is a good idea, especially in light of the teacher shortages during the pandemic.

“Anything that gets (a teacher’s) foot in the door makes it easier for people who have a bachelor’s degree and are pretty well educated …  (to) get into teaching,” Walkon said. “Personally, I am considering doing substitute teaching for my gap year next year.”

Mrachko said she would encourage any person with a bachelor’s degree to apply for the new M-ARC pathway. Mracko said as long as someone has a passion for teaching, they should reach out to M-ARC.

“If somebody is just coming out of their undergrad experience and, you know, maybe decided a little too late to change majors and that they want to be a teacher, they should give us a call,” Mrachko said. “We’ve had people who’ve applied who are 70 years old. We really encourage anybody who’s got an interest and a passion for becoming a teacher to reach out.”

Daily Staff Reporter Rachel Mintz can be reached at mintzrac@umich.edu.