Higher education leaders celebrate the expansion of The Partnership for Rural Educator Preparation (T-PREP) program to Northeastern Junior College (NJC) in Sterling, Colorado
From left: Sandy Mondragon, Linda Merkl, Valerie Sherman, Barbara Seidl, Mike White, Donna Brady-Lawler, Celeste Delgado-Pelton

CU Denver Partners with Northeastern Junior College to Offer Early Childhood, Elementary, and Special Education Teaching Degrees

March 28, 2022

The far-reaching impact of the work of CU Denver’s School of Education & Human Development (SEHD) is demonstrated by the many projects that serve as connections to a broad community of educators and leaders. SEHD’s latest partnership endeavor is an expansion of The Partnership for Rural Educator Preparation (T-PREP) program to Northeastern Junior College (NJC) in Sterling, Colorado. Its launch celebration took place on Thursday, March 24 in Northeastern Junior College’s ES French Hall Atrium. Starting this fall, bachelor’s degrees in early childhood, elementary, and special education may be completed in their entirety without leaving the greater Sterling region.

Cheyenne Harris

Prospective students and parents attending the event discovered that attending college and developing career plans to become a teacher in rural Colorado can be accessible, affordable and attainable. Cheyenne Harris, preschool teacher at Hagen Elementary Education Center in Sterling, came to mingle, network and talk with faculty advisors about the potential of pursuing a bachelor’s degree with an early childhood education concentration. “More education is always better,” she said. Sasha Lopez, a paraprofessional for almost five years in Holyoke Elementary in Holyoke, attended the event to learn more about earning a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in elementary education. “I was really excited when my principal sent me an email encouraging me to go to this event and apply,” said Lopez. “When it comes time to do my practicum experiences, I can stay and contribute to local classrooms during the practicums.”

Sasha Lopez

The project grew out of a desire to curb Colorado’s dire teacher shortage in rural communities and the success of other T-PREP initiatives at Otero College and Trinidad State College. The planning started around five years ago. In the last year, the planning was spearheaded by Valerie Sherman, director of T-PREP, Cindy Gutierrez, director of Clinical Teacher Education and Office of Partnerships in SEHD, and Barbara Seidl, co-interim dean in SEHD in collaboration with partners at NJC including Celeste Delgado-Pelton, chair of Liberal Arts and Professor of Music, Donna Brady-Lawler, ECE Coordinator and Professor, Carrie Knudson, director of Concurrent Enrollment, and Linda Merkl, the Vice President of Academic Affairs. 

“This partnership is so close and so dear to my heart,” said Seidl. “We are very invested in tapping into the incredible talent of this region. Our collective vision is to prepare teachers who love this community and who are going to stay, teach and lead across a lengthy career.”

Mike White, President at NJC

Mike White, President at NJC, spoke with excitement about the partnership. “Certainly, there was a need identified and a lot of very talented and dedicated folks came together to create a program that would fulfill that need in the end,” he said. “In the Navy, we called that an elegant solution. This is all good from every aspect I can see. Great educators improve the sustainability and opportunities that young men and women following us will have as they grow up in rural Colorado.”

Jamie Unrein and her daughter

The final speaker of the evening was NJC graduate Jamie Unrein, director of Iliff Head Start. Unrein shared her journey into teaching and higher education. “If teaching is your passion, then why not take a chance working hard for something you love,” she said. “The kids who step into your classroom are worth it.”

The expansion of T-PREP to Northeastern Junior College is funded by SEHD’s grant from the Early Educator Investment Collaborative (EEIC), a 2.5-year collaborative effort to expand early childhood teachers’ access to college degrees. In addition to T-PREP, this grant also supports innovations at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Metropolitan State University of Denver, University of Northern Colorado, and across the Colorado Community College System. SEHD’s EEIC grant is also actively engaged, in collaboration with the Governor’s Office and the Department of Higher Education, in centering the early childhood workforce in Colorado’s efforts to launch a new Department of Early Childhood and a Universal Preschool Program.

Learn more about the new T-PREP partnership at: education.ucdenver.edu/northeastern