WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - When Rick Holliday, then the principal at Laney High School, approached Richelle Dombroski in 2000 about leading a teacher cadet program at Laney, Dombroski wasn't immediately sold on the idea.
“I was even a little hesitant at the time,” Dombroski said. “I’m an American history teacher but, I teach, and I love it so I want other people to teach.”
Nineteen years later, Dombroski continues to mentor teachers-to-be through the cadet program. By her count, around 250 students have been cadets, and more than 40 cadet graduates are teaching in North Carolina schools.
Cadets form lesson plans and teach pre-K through first grade students at Wrightsboro Elementary every Monday-Thursday.
Laney junior Elmer Rodriguez first became interested in teaching through watching his mom teach and it seems the apple didn't fall far from the tree.
“Seeing my mom teach throughout her entire life, I feel like I was into it from the start,” Rodriguez said. “I absolutely love it. I like being able to help the kids and seeing them grow over time really helps.”
When Laney senior Laurel Phillips was part of a swim team at age 12, she helped younger kids learn to swim. That planted the teaching seed for Phillips, who has contemplated some different teacher career options the last few years.
Once she started the cadet program though, Phillips said her plan for the future became clearer. She wants to teach first graders on military bases and she's gotten a head start by teaching first grade at Wrightsboro.
Like many teachers, Phillips wasn't totally confident in the beginning.
"I was terrified at first," Phillips said. "I had no idea what the kids were gonna think of me but I fell in love with them and they fell in love with me, and it's just been the best experience of my whole entire life."
Dombroski, who has been teaching in New Hanover County for 33 years — 30 of those at Laney — is hopeful the cadet program will continue to produce teachers, and she’s grateful not only for what her students due for others, but also what they’ve done for her.
“It’s very rewarding when I walk in and I see a (Laney) student working with one who cannot read,” Dombroski said. “They teach them maybe one word that day. Then I go back in a couple weeks and they can read a whole passage. ... I’m just so blessed to have these students.”
Shelby Cook walked across the stage to get her diploma at UNCW a few weeks ago, and walked right into teaching at Williston Middle School.
Long before getting her college degree, Cook was one of Dombroski's cadets at Laney, teaching students at Trask Middle while she was a high school senior. As daunting as that might sound, Cook said the teacher cadet program was an important tool in her early career development.
"(Being a teacher cadet) was awesome because I basically got to student teach at Trask Middle School (my senior) year," Cook said. "It just set me up for success, having that experience going into college. ... In high school, I'm only four years older than them so it was a little odd at first but I really enjoyed it."
According to Dombroski, her cadets sometimes log more hours in classroom than UNCW interns do going into student teaching.