Pottsgrove teacher Kimberly Sheeler walks a log bridge in the rain forest in Ecuador
POTTSTOWN PA – Kimberly Sheeler, a Spanish language teacher at Pottsgrove High School, admits that even with her background in education she worried over whether to go back to school for an advanced degree. Like other adults, she felt the “fear of returning to the classroom as a ‘more mature’ student after 17 years” away from it, Sheeler said Wednesday (April 2, 2014).
Now, as the spring semester ends at nearby West Chester University, Sheeler will have earned a master’s degree in Spanish there. She’s not the only winner in this tale, though; future Pottsgrove students reap a benefit too, high school Principal Dr. Bill Ziegler explained.
With her new degree Sheeler, a Pottsgrove employee since 1992 who also is certified to teach French, qualifies to teach college-level Spanish at the high school. That allows students who enroll in her Spanish 3 and Spanish 4 classes to double the value of time spent on studies: they’ll complete high school graduation requirements, and simultaneously earn up to 12 credits at Montgomery County Community College.
The college and Pottsgrove agreed several years ago on a framework for so-called “dual-enrollment courses,” Ziegler said. Teachers with master’s degrees or higher in their subject areas, and who are approved by the college, are certified to teach college-level material. Students who attend their courses also are enrolled at the college for a reduced fee, and earn its credits when they successfully finish.
Dual enrollment courses represent a real bargain, Ziegler claimed. Students currently pay the college only $153 for a three-credit course, a savings of $306. They also slice months off of attending the college’s Pottstown or Blue Bell campuses for those same subjects, he added.
There’s a drawback, Ziegler acknowledged. Some private schools do not accept dual enrollment credits, and students who know in advance which college they hope to attend should check with it to ensure credits will be honored. Those headed for state-operated schools usually won’t encounter the problem, he indicated.
It was the opportunity to offer dual enrollment courses at Pottsgrove that finally convinced Sheeler to overcome her fear and, during 2012, again become a student herself.
“My prime motivation for re-entering the ‘world of the student’ was based on my desire to bring to the students of Pottsgrove the same opportunity that my own children have as students in Boyertown; specifically, the ability to acquire college credit at a fraction of the cost while still in high school,” she wrote in the article.
Her enthusiasm for the subject was a motivator too. “Learning about the Spanish language and Hispanic cultures, and sharing this knowledge and passion with others is one of my greatest joys in life,” she noted.
That didn’t make her own transition from teacher to student any easier. One “startling realization” during her initial days with West Chester, Sheeler said, was the recognition “that the majority of my classmates were the same age as my eldest daughter.” Still, she added, returning to the “receiving end” of a lesson, “being the student … has made me a better teacher.”
The best part of her educational journey, she said, was one that occurred in real life. During a sabbatical Sheeler packed her bags and traveled more than 3,000 miles to spend a season in Quito, Ecuador. She took three classes there, served as an interpreter, and volunteered in the community. Her work assisted a medical brigade that goes to areas of poverty throughout Quito offering free medical care, and Quito Etern, a Quito-based tour group.
It also provided her with stories that can infuse her future Pottsgrove courses with something extra. “I am very excited to bring to PGHS this opportunity. I look forward to sharing with and instill(ing) in students … the love of the language and culture that I have,” Sheeler wrote.
Photo from Pottsgrove High School