OTERO COUNTY — About five years ago, leaders at Otero College, formerly known as Otero Junior College knew something needed to be done about a growing teacher shortage across the country.
"We have districts who are having to hire educators quickly, they're having to take online programs," Rana Brown, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs with Otero College said. Brown was part of an effort to bring a program to the college, which allows students to complete a four-year degree through CU Denver, all while students remain in La Junta.
The program is known as "T-Prep". Brown said having local students remain in the place they call home is a key factor in retaining them for teaching positions.
"They're loyal to this community, this is where they want to be and they are really excited to work with these students," Brown said.
Turnover rates among educators have become a growing concern not only in Colorado but nationally. In rural areas, turnovers are a challenge in districts struggling to recruit and retain teachers.
In recent years, districts in the Arkansas Valley have seen turnover rates ranging from three to nearly twenty percent.
In the first five years of the program, students like MacKenzie King have received their degree in the Arkansas Valley and have been able to remain in the area for a job after graduation.
She previously worked in Swink, this year she's teaching K-12 students in Cheraw.
"It's cool being able to teach here, it's something I was excited to have the opportunity to do," King, who grew up in Las Animas said, she added it helps being from the area and related to students "knowing how to teach to fill those gaps and what things kids already know coming in and what they might need to know."
For Ellen Schreivogel, the coordinator for the program at Otero College, the number of students is slowly growing. Already, districts the school partners with are asking when the next group of students will be available for hire.
"We're trying to provide an opportunity for people that are from here that are invested in this area, they understand the community, they understand what's here what's not here, all the ins and outs that is probably the greatest strength," Schreivogel said.