There are 168 schools that have an International Baccalaureate (IB) Career-Related Programme (CP) in the United States, and five of them are in Wisconsin. Reagan High School in Milwaukee, where I’m an assistant principal, is the only school in the state to offer an education pathway for students as part of this program.

Sato is NASSP’s 2023 National Assistant Principal of the Year. PHOTOS BY LIFETOUCH

In response to teacher shortages and a lack of diverse teaching candidates, Reagan started the CP education pathway in 2021 with the hope of developing more teachers and reinvesting in the Milwaukee community. Reagan became an authorized CP school in the spring of 2013, and besides education, offers two other career pathways for students: health science and information technology.

This fall, alumni from the first cohort of students in our CP education pathway enrolled in their first year of college. It’s too soon to say if our 20 CP education graduates will return to teach in Milwaukee, or possibly teach as alumni back at Reagan, but I am very excited to see the trajectory they choose. At Reagan, we have hired four alumni as teachers or paraprofessionals in the last few years. I hope one day we can hire alumni of our CP education pathway, too.

One reason alumni make a natural fit as staff at Reagan is because they understand the culture and climate of the school. Graduates have gone through the IB Programme as students, so they understand the personal and academic expectations. They are also familiar with the school culture and the community and can relate to students at a much more personal level through shared experiences. When alumni come back to teach, it shows they’re invested in the city of Milwaukee, and they’re invested in our high school.

High-Quality Teaching Candidates

Through this program, we’ve been able to create a clear pathway for current high school students to become teachers within the city of Milwaukee. The pathway provides students with real-world experience at a local IB elementary school and allows them to earn college credits while in high school.

High school is the ideal time to get students thinking about careers, and in our case, taking classes related to specific careers. We hope that the education pathway we’ve created will spark students’ interest in becoming teachers. The program also includes about 70% of students of color—which mirrors our school’s demographics as a whole.

Our vision was to create an education pipeline connecting Reagan’s high-achieving students to a long-term teaching career, which will diversify and increase the education workforce in the city. This pathway established in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), enables Reagan students to earn education college credits in courses taught by Reagan teachers.

The partnership with UWM has been essential, and the credits the students earn can transfer to other universities, giving them more flexibility. For many of our students, 60% of whom come from low-income families, where they go to college depends in large part on financial aid and scholarship money.

We would love to see the program grow. But we face a challenge that’s unfortunately common across the country: A lot of students are turned off by the idea of teaching because of all the negative portrayals they see of teachers in the media and popular culture. That makes it harder to recruit students, but getting real-world field work education experience during their high school years is an added benefit.

Field Work Offers Extra Motivation

The CP education pathway includes a field work component, which students complete at an IB elementary school just a couple blocks away from Reagan. They put in 30 hours of field work with an elementary school teacher who they support with classroom duties. At the same time, they are still completing their coursework in the six IB classes they are taking at Reagan. It is a full load, but the students enrolled in the program are invested in the coursework aligned to their future career goals.

Misa Sato, principal of Reagan High School in Milwaukee, WI, with education pathway students. These students put in 30 hours of field work with an elementary school teacher who they support with classroom duties, while they complete their coursework in six IB classes at Reagan.

This is our first cohort, and we will be tracking where they end up after college and if they pursue careers in education. I would be ecstatic if all of them came back to teach here, but we’re realistic. Part of it depends on what grade they want to teach, as well as their chosen subject area. Some members of the cohort are considering bilingual education, which tends to be offered more at the elementary level, but if 50% return to teach, whether in Milwaukee or elsewhere in Wisconsin, that would be a great success for us. Of course, we would love it if some of our students would come back and someday teach at Reagan, but we first and foremost want to develop great teachers.

I do think the field work component—and the opportunity to go into an elementary school and get hands-on experience with kids—has been a huge success and motivating for our students. They’re able to see what it’s like working in an elementary school, which is very different from teaching in a high school, but it also keeps our students invested in the program. Through field work and practicing what they learn with younger students, we are hoping to spark a passion for teaching that will motivate students to pursue it as a career.

Of course, if field experience helps a student realize they don’t want to go into education, that’s also a valuable learning opportunity. It is better for the student that they discover that now than after they’ve been in college for a couple years and end up changing majors. But that’s the idea behind the career pathways approach. Students learn more about what they might want to do before they spend thousands of dollars on college.

We are excited to see what the future holds for Reagan’s first cohort of CP education pathway students. We look forward to watching the future success of the teachers we helped to develop, and the success of the program we’ve created at Reagan High School. 

Misa Sato is an assistant principal of Reagan High School in Milwaukee, WI, and NASSP’s 2023 National Assistant Principal of the Year.