Thalia Jones had always liked the idea of becoming an educator. But she wanted to make sure it would be the right fit.

“I needed reassurance to know that I was going to be a good teacher, like [that] this was my calling, before I’m going to school paying for it and then it’s the wrong thing,” said Jones, who is a high school senior in Denver, Colorado.

Fortuitously, during her junior year, in the middle of a computer science class that she had begun to tire of, a representative from her Cherry Creek school district came to introduce an opportunity: students could join an all-new “future educator” program to shadow local primary school teachers and work with younger kids as paraprofessionals — all while earning an income.

“I felt like it was kind of meant to be when they came into that classroom,” Jones said. “They were like, ‘Does anybody want to be a teacher?’”

Jones raised her hand.

“I’m so glad that I made that decision,” she said. “Because it led me here.”

Now, five days a week for about three hours each day, Jones works with elementary students at Cherry Creek Elevation, the district’s online school option for students whose families opted out of in-person learning this year. She shadows a veteran fourth-grade teacher, holds “reading group” sessions for students who need extra help and even runs her own class two days a week. In the process, she has racked up college credits and earned admission into several in-state colleges and universities to continue her training as a teacher.

Jones is one of 26 high school juniors and seniors who participate in Cherry Creek’s future educator pathway. The program, now in its second year, has two central goals: First, as a part of a broader push to provide apprenticeship options to students in the district, it’s a way to give youth like Jones real-world work experience while still in high school.

But the program also seeks to address a problem pervasive in the 55,000-student district, and common in school systems across America: teacher forces that don’t reflect student bodies. While approximately half of students in the southeast Denver district are kids of color, 85 percent of teachers are white, slightly above the 79 percent share of educators nationally.

Read the full article about teaching apprentice by Asher Lehrer-Small at The 74.