West Virginia’s Troops to Teachers’ logo says it all: Proud to Serve Again. This program helps eligible military personnel use their experience and education to transition into new careers as school teachers, at the same time recruiting much-needed, qualified teachers for the state’s school system. Troops to Teachers offers soldiers and veterans personalized counseling on the teacher certification process, job placement assistance after certification and financial aid, either in the form of a $5,000 stipend for certification costs or a bonus of up to $10,000. In exchange for financial assistance, participants agree to a three-year teaching commitment in one of West Virginia’s low-income public schools. State Coordinator Robert Mellace says that math, science and special education teachers are in greatest demand, but that the program also welcomes those who want to teach other subjects. He adds that any eligible veteran interested in becoming a teacher should consider the program. “I encourage everyone who wants to transition from a solder to a teacher to call me, even if he or she has no previous college experience. We can talk about options for education and certification.”
Stefan Smolski is an example of the success of the Troops to Teachers program. He was a research biologist before enlisting in the service, where he served in various positions throughout his 23-year career, including posts as an intelligence officer and naval flight officer. Upon his retirement, Smolski decided to build on his biology degree and completed 45 hours of undergraduate work at Fairmont State University to earn his teaching certification. For the past nine years Smolski has taught physical science and biology at Oak Glen High School in Hancock County. With his aviation experience, Smolski says that he could have easily walked into a variety of jobs, but that becoming a teacher was the right decision for him. “I’m very happy with what I am doing.”
In addition, Smolski says he considered entering the Troops to Teachers program in other states, including North Carolina, but that he and his wife fell in love with West Virginia. “I love this state. I’m originally from California. It took me a while to get to West Virginia, but I came as soon as I could.”
In his 2009 State of the State Address, Gov. Joe Manchin recognized Smolski for his efforts, saying of him and his fellow Troops to Teachers participants, “Veterans bring leadership and experience to our classrooms and their students. They are excellent role models, and I am confident they will help us educate our young people and prepare them with the skills they need to compete in today’s global economy.”
Information on the state’s Troops to Teachers program can be accessed through the Troops to Teachers
Web site or by calling Robert Mellace directly at 1-800-982-2378. Mellace has even started West Virginia Troops to Teachers groups on the social-networking Internet sites Facebook
for participants, spouses, supporters or anyone interested in finding out more about the program.