ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — As high school seniors get closer to graduation, the job market after college may be lingering on their minds.
But a program in St. Lucie Public Schools promises some students a job right back in their hometown.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: State of Education
First-year teacher Jewel Edwards talks history with her students at Creative Arts Academy of St. Lucie.
"I'm happy here, my kids are amazing," Edwards said. "It's just a good spot to be in, a really, really good spot."
A good spot now. But things were a bit uncertain when Edwards graduated college last May.
"I think in March we were sent home from college because of the pandemic, so it was a little more difficult," Edwards said. "We didn’t have a lot of interviews available in Tallahassee. So my only option was, hey, I gotta come home and figure out something. And 'Promise Is A Promise' was, like, wide open and had the opportunity that I needed to start my career in education."
The "Promise Is A Promise" program guarantees participating St. Lucie County students a teaching job in the district after graduation, something Edwards said she's grateful for, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Beyond measure, beyond measure," Edwards said. "Such a good opportunity to come back. And it's not just a job that they offered me. It's a career, something I could grow in and develop in."
All St. Lucie County high schools have signs up on campus telling students about the "Promise Is A Promise" program.
Once a student tells their school counselor they plan to major in education, the counselor can then get them a certificate at graduation. Their information goes into a database and the school district can keep track of those students while they’re in college and make sure they get that job when they get out.
"I think I’ve always kind of known that I wanted to go into education," said Grace Robinson, a senior at Fort Pierce Central High School. "My mom and my grandma was also a teacher, and I would hang out in their classrooms."
For Robinson, it was an easy decision to sign up for the program.
"I think it's a really great opportunity for St. Lucie kids because the world is so uncertain," Robinson said "So having that certainty that I will have a job doing something I love, which is educating others, really just kind of relieves that anxiety of not knowing what's going to happen after college."
Fellow senior Brianne Yates agrees, and hopes to become a music teacher.
"I think it's wonderful because the uncertainty everyone is feeling right now, especially with maintaining a job and being able to stay in their community and help others, I think it's really, really good that we're able to have a guaranteed job when we are out of college." Yates said.
Edwards was just named Outstanding First Year Teacher of the Year in St. Lucie County. She encourages students to consider the program, and said it's a promise she plans to keep.
"I'm grateful to be in a district I grew up in and now I can teach in. It's awesome," Edwards said.
The "Promise Is A Promise" program started 15 years ago in St. Lucie Public Schools.
In 2018, 95 students graduated from St. Lucie County public high schools with a "Promise Is A Promise" certificate, 84 students in 2019, and 59 students in 2020. That decline is partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.
With schools transitioning to distance learning, school counselors did not have as much communication and interaction with students.
There are 40 students enrolled for this year's graduating class, and school leaders hope to increase that number as they get closer to graduation.
Officials with St. Lucie Public Schools said that any students from St. Lucie public high schools who are ready to declare a major in teaching and/or education should meet their their school counselor, who will enroll them in the "Promise Is A Promise" program.