It’s a typical evening in the Sanduka household. The three boys are gathered around the house, working on assignments. Their mom is at the kitchen table, on her computer. She’s just as focused. She has homework, too.
Kiley Sanduka, 44, is part of the 2019 cohort in the 2+2 program University of Northern Iowa College of Education offers in partnership with Des Moines Area Community College. Her goal: completion of a bachelor’s degree with a dual major in elementary and middle level education.
“I never thought I could work and have my family life and go to school full time. I didn’t think that was going to work,” says Sanduka, who is currently a library associate in Gilbert, Iowa. However, after being encouraged by her school’s teacher librarian to continue her education, she found the 2+2 program.
Sanduka’s cohort formally began in January 2019 and will finish with student teaching in spring 2021. She represents the profile of many: older, with jobs, leading busy lives -- who want to become teachers.
Through 2+2, students complete an associate degree to satisfy UNI liberal arts requirements. They take the remaining education-specific core courses via equivalent classes at DMACC, while UNI faculty teach the professional education classwork. Though the majority of courses are online, there are a handful of face-to-face courses, which UNI faculty teach on campus at the DMACC Ankeny, Boone or Carroll locations. The program welcomes students who may complete initial core classes at other community colleges statewide, but who are willing to travel as needed for the on-site classes.
“Technically, these (2+2 students) are transfer students, but they’re not transferring to Cedar Falls,” says Marc Renning, who's served as program coordinator for 12 years and works out of the DMACC Carroll office. “They’re taking their courses through distance delivery options, either online via Zoom or other options, or taking blended courses, or they meet face-to-face in Ankeny or Carroll.
“I call our students masters in perseverance. They want this degree, they want to be teachers, and now they want the best teaching degree in the state of Iowa, from UNI,” he says.
Sanduka previously completed an associate degree in business, and worked in marketing for several years. But when her family returned to the United States after living in Belgium, she took a full-time position at the local school district. When she started the 2+2 program, she began anew at DMACC to get the right base of core liberal arts courses.
New backgrounds, new cohorts
Renning notes that while the 2+2 program was built for a pathway from the associate to bachelor’s degree, more and more students with an existing bachelor’s degree are opting in as well.
That may sound like the RAPIL -- Regents Alternative Pathway to Iowa Licensure, a program accessed at Iowa’s state universities, which allows students with bachelor’s degrees to become teachers. The distinction: The 2+2 program is focused on elementary or middle level education. In contrast, RAPIL leads to teaching at the secondary level.
“These are students with a degree already who want to complete elementary or middle level education degrees. We’ve had between five to 10 students with those backgrounds come into the program in the past two cohorts,” he says.
Kim McCoy-Parker originally received her two-year diploma in early childhood education. She operated a preschool after graduation and then switched careers, moving into incentive marketing. Her business collapsed during the recession in 2008, so she turned to a part-time job as a behavior associate with the Southeast Polk School District.
“I was in a wonderful school, and realized I wanted to do more and work directly in the classroom. But it was really hard as a parent and, working part-time, there wasn’t a way to do it until I found the 2+2 program,” McCoy-Parker says.
Already 48 when she started, McCoy-Parker says she, like many, brought life experience to her learning. “My cohort was very nontraditional, a lot were on second and third careers, a lot of moms, a lot of school associates and paraprofessionals who decided they had what it takes,” she says.
A program with expectations
Anyone enrolling in the 2+2 program can expect a rigorous program. Students take six to nine credits per session, and the program continues over two summers. There are daily readings and assignments. Often classroom discussion online means you cannot hide, as engagement is part of course expectations.
“You really have to be disciplined. You're typically balancing three classes,” McCoy-Parker adds. “Group work online is not the easiest thing either -- working with assignments as a group and at a distance. But in reality, it makes you lean on your cohort a little more. You have to be trusting to get through group work.”
McCoy-Parker now teaches fifth grade. And while Sanduka is just beginning, McCoy-Parker is nearly finished...again. She went on to complete her master’s degree online in elementary education with a minor in instructional technology and now has just two classes and then her dissertation to finish for her doctorate in education (Ed.D.) from UNI.
“Sometimes you have a different drive when starting later,” she laughs. “For my doctorate, I just wanted to be an effective classroom teacher. This continuous path has allowed me options for later. I would love to teach pre-service teachers, even as an adjunct or part time, just because I have a lot of life experience I bring.”
More than 275 students have graduated from the 2+2 program since 1995. At spring graduation, Renning joined Dean Gaëtane Jean-Marie and others at a special ceremony at DMACC in Carroll, part of a tradition established early on.
“This time of year is so exciting for me, because some of our students are starting to land teaching positions,” he says. “To see the excitement and relief on their face that this was all worth it, it just sends chills up my spine. It makes me proud to help these students reach their goals of becoming a teacher.”
Program details and enrollment information are offered through UNI at a Distance.