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Merrimack’s MINTS Program Gives Community, Support to New Teachers

July 17, 2023 2 min read
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While pursuing a graduate degree in higher education, Merrimack alumna Isabel Fernandes ’21 M’22 was at a crossroads between pursuing a graduate degree focused on higher education and or continuing through with her K-12 studies. Luckily, the Merrimack Institute for New Teacher Support was there to ground her.

“I realized higher education was not the right fit for me,” she explained. “To keep myself sane and help myself stay relevant and in touch with K-12, I ended up going to MINTS because I saw it as a way to network, learn more information, expand on the knowledge I learned from undergrad and also give me things to talk about when I (would go) back to teach in K-12.”

Founded in 2016 through an endowment established by Merrimack College alumna and former teacher Judy Teehan Winston ’64 and her husband Bob Winston, MINTS is a supportive community that offers free professional development workshops and networking opportunities for new and established teachers.

It is housed in Merrimack College’s Winston School of Education and Social Policy.

“It’s kind of known that between years one and three of being in the teaching field there’s a lot of turnover and it’s hard to retain new teachers in those first few years,” explained MINTS Director Amanda Alcox. “Anything we can do to support or make their lives easier is really the goal.”

Since taking over as director in 2019, Alcox has worked to expand MINTS’ reach and offer dynamic courses to meet teachers’ current emotional, professional and community-based needs.

“Because of the pandemic, we transitioned to a lot of virtual programs and offerings,” she explained. “Pre-pandemic, we were fully on-ground doing workshops in person. When the pandemic hit I was really challenged to get MINTS an online profile. We enhanced our social media channels and did many standalone workshops and series on Zoom.”

While members lost out on having the in-person component to their meetings and programs during the pandemic, the virtual components did widen MINTS’ reach across the country. At one point, teachers from the Coachella Valley Regional School District in California logged in for a virtual workshop.

“A lot of people still like the convenience of being online and Zooming in,” Alcox explained. “We are also exploring doing more recordings or self-paced workshops online. Every year there’s something different.”

Over the past year, MINTS hosted workshops on communication and language. multilingual learners and mindfulness fundamentals for educators. In May, members attended the New England Educational Research Organization conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to learn about current research practices for classrooms.

Such services have helped new teachers like Fernandes, who this year received her license to teach English as a Second Language from Merrimack College. She also recently completed a fellowship at Billerica Middle School teaching ESL to fifth, sixth and seventh graders.

“I know, for me, networking is hard and MINTS definitely made it easier,” she explained. “I also have the extra challenge of learning how to be in a professional development setting. I am a bilateral cochlear implant user so I have to navigate how I advocate for myself for accessibility. Being able to do it at MINTS was really helpful, and they’re so accommodating and helpful for whatever it is that we need.”