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Teacher shortage forcing this Virginia school system to hire college students

George Mason University student Tracy Hernandez was eager to step into the role.

FAIRFAX, Va. — Schools throughout the region have been facing staff shortages all year, but Fairfax County Public Schools has one solution -- hiring college students to work as substitute teachers.

Tracy Hernandez has signed up eagerly.

“It's very rewarding--working with this population of students building the connection with them. I love it," she said.

When she's not serving as a substitute teacher at Oak View Elementary, she's studying special education across the street at George Mason University. 

The college junior said the pandemic has not wavered her commitment to pursuing this career at all.

“My two cousins are on the spectrum, and they made me want to pursue that career," Hernandez said.

FCPS is looking for more college students like Hernandez to help fill the gaps in their substitute teacher coverage.

A spokesperson said right now, their sub-fill rate sits between 55% and 60%, compared to about 80% pre-pandemic and 70% at the start of the pandemic.

RELATED: Record number of students missing school as omicron cases surge

The county spokesperson said when it comes to full-time teachers, they're looking to fill 152 positions -- about 1% of their full staffing roster (15,892 teachers.)

“Having those students …be able to be in the classroom, support the needs that are rising, especially in such challenging times. And having, you know, the willingness and just kind of the wherewithal to jump in, take over and make sure that [the] high-quality instruction that our community expects, continues. And so it, it's working for us," Oak View Principal Sarah Brooker said.

Brooker said FCPS has hired college students as subs in the past but recently lowered the required number of credit hours to apply from 60 to 30 -- which is helping them recruit more students.

Hernandez said it wasn't a hard decision -- she's learning a lot from her fellow teachers who have become like family.

“Make some extra cash and get experience and doing what I love to do," she said.

FCPS lists its hourly rate for these substitute teachers as between $17.79 and $23.91.

“When it all boils down to it, we're all in here together to help these kids," Oak View Assistant Principal Lora Adams said. "We love what we do, and we know that our substitute teachers do too because they keep coming back.”

Now, this initiative isn't a panacea. FCPS said some central office and management staff are still filling as subs to fill the gaps.

The district is hosting a substitute teacher interview day on Jan. 18. To find out how to register, click here.

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