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Educate U.S. Program

NIU College of Education students test career waters in Houston


Ashley Grazutis realized in middle school that she wanted to become a teacher when she grew up.

So did Saul Amaya – and for the same reason.

Both are pursuing licensure in middle-level teaching and learning through the NIU College of Education.

NIU student at Educate US program in Houston“Middle school was when I learned how to become a person. I learned how to work hard, and I learned how to fight for what I want,” Grazutis says. “I want to assist and inspire students to become the most competent and engaged students they can be.”

“I want to teach middle school because that was a struggle for me,” Amaya says.

“Middle school is such a transition, and not just education-wise. It’s more of a personal and awkward time for students. It was for me,” he adds, “and I feel like knowing that, I can relate to the students.

Grazutis and Amaya were among 22 students from the College of Education who traveled to Texas in January for a transformative week observing and working in the Houston Independent School District.

NIU’s Educate U.S. program provides select students with donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experiences to view, practice and live in an out-of-state school district. This winter’s trip also included – for the first time – two students in the Athletic Training program of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

Educate U.S. reinforces several values and priorities of the student-centered College of Education, including diverse and innovative real-world learning opportunities through collaboration with schools, communities, agencies and businesses.

Participating students live in the homes of HISD administrators, gaining a unique perspective of the business side of schools along with a great advantage in the job market.

NIU student at Educate US program in Houston“We are perceived, not just in Illinois but in other states, as a place where you want to recruit teachers from,” says Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of Teacher Preparation and Development, “a place that has graduates who are able to step into a classroom and make an impact – a positive impact – immediately, who come prepared to teach and learn.”

Zahidelys Tapia, an Early Childhood Studies major, calls Educate U.S. “amazing.”

“From the first day, my teacher said, ‘What can you do? What do you want to do?’ She right away allowed me to be a part of her classroom. She said, ‘Play with the kids. Talk with the kids. When they’re doing their center times, do everything,’ ” Tapia says. “I learned how to be a teacher.”