Former Missionary Takes on a New Mission at Mocksville Elementary School

By Jeanna B. White

When Rachel Somerville found out she had been placed at Mocksville Elementary for her student teaching she was “over the moon excited.” That sentiment hasn’t changed as she has transitioned into a full-time first grade teacher at MES this semester.

“The teachers at Mocksville have just been so supportive, so warm and welcoming. Everyone has come up and offered me help or provided help when I didn’t even know I needed it,” Somerville said with a smile. “They have made me feel like a part of the family.

Somerville has always known she wanted to work with kids and has worked hard to make it happen.

“Both of my parents were teachers before becoming missionaries, I had always taught Sunday School in Mexico, and my parents started a Christian camp which involved a lot of working with kids. I just knew that working with kids was going to be my passion,” she said.

Born in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, Somerville moved to Mexico at the age of five, along with her seven siblings, when her parents became missionaries.

“We all moved to Mexico in a 12-passenger van with a giant Newfoundland dog. It was like Cheaper by the Dozen all over again,” she said, laughing.

After being homeschooled for all but one year of school, Somerville returned to North Carolina when she was almost 17 to finish high school, attend college, and get her teaching degree. She dual-enrolled at Isothermal Community College (ICC) in Rutherfordton where her older brother and sister were also students.

While she was at ICC, Somerville and her dad researched the best education colleges in North Carolina, and Appalachian State University appeared first on the list.

“We did a little bit of research on it, and I heard that it started as a teaching college and just had the best reputation in North Carolina, so I applied there and at no others,” she said. “My only plan was to go to App State. I didn’t know anybody there and hadn’t even taken a tour, but I just knew that I wanted the ‘best of the best’.”

Her desire to find the best continued as she evaluated student teaching options.

ASU/Mebane Foundation & Davie County Schools – Collaboration Continues to Pay Dividends
“They gave us a list of places we could go, and one of them was Davie County. I had never heard of Davie County, but when they mentioned that Davie County offered free housing for their student teachers and that they interviewed their prospective student teachers, I knew that that was where I wanted to be. …It set a really good tone for me of excellence and expecting excellence.  Davie County became my number one choice. Davie County School’s good reputation, focus on technology, Kagan activities, and DavieLEADS initiatives were added positives,” she said.

Davie County Schools began a close relationship with ASU in 2008 when the Mebane Foundation collaborated with the school system and Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education to create the Mebane Masters program. This first-of-its-kind academic degree program allowed 15 Davie County teachers to remain in their Davie County classrooms while pursuing their Master of Arts Degrees in Instructional Technology. These teachers became their school’s primary resource for questions about the best and most pragmatic ways to maximize technology’s benefit in the classroom.

A student-teacher component became a crucial piece of the Mebane Masters Program. Over five semesters in 2½ years, 60 Appalachian student teachers were housed in Davie County, spending their 15-week semester paired with one of the 15 master teachers. The technology-rich environment created an intensive learning environment for Davie students, student teachers, and master teachers. Although the Mebane Masters Program ended, the Davie County School system continues to maintain two condos to attract the best and brightest student teachers.

“We have more student teachers from ASU than from any other college/university, and they are prioritized for housing because of our partnership with ASU,” said Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent for academic services. “However, we welcome student teachers from other places. (The limitation is usually how far the college supervisor is willing to travel for visits unless they have someone who lives in the area.)  Since I’ve been helping recruit and place student teachers the last few years, we’ve had student teachers from Salem, Catawba, UNC-Charlotte, Lees McRae, ECU, UNCG, Liberty, WCU, and NC A&T, in addition to the majority from ASU.”

“We want to be involved in helping train student teachers!  Student teaching is a critical part of their education and preparation to step into their own classroom. In addition, hosting student teachers is one way we recruit high-quality staff since some student teachers are hired and stay with us. It’s a win-win!” she added.

Somerville met with Haynes during her application interview. “She told me that she had the perfect teacher for me,” Somerville said. “That was just so cool too that they can tell so much about you through that interview. She matched me with Madison Wyatt in third grade, and it was perfect. I had heard horror stories of students getting stuck with really difficult teachers who only used them to make copies, but Madison and I really bonded. We thought the same way, and it made all of the difference.”

“My student teaching was the best experience ever and the free housing made so much difference. It really set the standard. They (DCS) provided that for me so naturally I really wanted to do my best to make them proud. Coming home to other student teachers and being able to talk about our assignments or take a deep breath together on the hard days and celebrate the good days was amazing. Student teaching is a crazy semester, your brain has to make the jump from student to teacher, and that condo really provides a professional atmosphere of ‘I’m here to work.’”

Impressed with Somerville’s work, Jennifer Swofford, principal of MES, approached her after a meeting and informed her that a spring semester position was opening up and asked if she would be interested.

“Having a student teacher in our building is always exciting because of the energy and thoughtfulness they bring to the table,” said Swofford. “Rachel immediately immersed herself in the culture of Mocksville Elementary and proved herself very quickly to be a natural at positively connecting with students. When we had the opportunity to hire her early this year, it felt like the stars aligned in having Rachel join us as a new official staff member.”

Somerville responded to Swofford’s offer with a resounding “yes”!

“I told her of course! I was all in, I wanted to be here,” Somerville said with a grin. “It’s every student teacher’s dream to stay at the school where they student taught because they know the staff and know the school. First-year teaching is scary beyond belief, so having that familiarity and support group is the best thing I could have imagined! My only concern was housing because I’m not from Davie County and I didn’t know about apartments or if someone could lease to me this quickly or for how long.”

Somerville decided that concern wasn’t going to deter her from staying and she began to think creatively. “I wondered if it was possible to stay in the condo and mentor the new student teachers since I had just gone through the process myself. I already knew the challenges and knew that I could provide on-site support.”

Determined to keep Somerville in Davie County, Swofford and Haynes had considered the same thing. Fortunately, there was room this semester for Somerville to stay in the condo and it has benefitted all involved.

“The concept of having a first-year teacher as a “condo mom” was an interesting concept to consider as far as another layer of support, connection, and collaboration,” Haynes said. “I recently met with the student teachers, and they expressed how helpful it is to have Rachel living with them.  She is able to provide perspective, advice, and support since she just recently completed her student teaching. We don’t always have room for another roommate, but it’s working great this semester!”

“It’s wonderful to know that our investment in the Mebane Masters Program continues to pay dividends to this day in ways that no one could have anticipated, which is often the case with the best collaborative efforts,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation.

Somerville “Called” to Teach!  
“Rachel is eager to make a difference for our kids, and I believe teaching is truly her calling,” Swofford said. “She is exactly where she is supposed to be, and we are lucky to have her.”

Somerville is grateful for the opportunities she has received in Davie County.

“I just want to say thank you (to the Mebane Foundation and Davie County Schools)!  I know that I’m blessed,” Somerville said. “I feel blessed every day to wake up in the condo and to get to come to an awesome school. The teachers here have really poured into me, and I hope one day to be able to do the same for others. I know that I was placed here for a reason, and I’m thankful for that.”