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At Maxfield Elementary, kids learning their ABCs will soon walk the same halls as University of St. Thomas students studying to earn their teaching credentials.

The university's School of Education will station a handful of staff and about a half-dozen student teachers in the St. Paul school this fall as part of a new partnership announced Friday.

"St. Thomas students will gain the critical skills they need for their teaching careers, while providing more resources and tools for Maxfield teachers to support their students," said Amy Smith, interim dean of the School of Education.

The program is unique in that student teachers who work at Maxfield will do so for more than a semester at a time, officials said. That way, aspiring educators will get to know the school and feel like part of the community while the elementary students they work with will have more familiar faces walking the halls.

St. Thomas faculty will work closely with school staff to provide student teachers with hands-on experience beyond the theory they learn in the classroom, officials said. Maxfield Principal Leslie Hitchens also set aside a classroom for St. Thomas professors to host their own class sessions.

"The best thing for us is having these teachers and professors on-site," Hitchens said.

Superintendent Joe Gothard hailed the new collaboration as an "innovative model" that will "enhance our students' ability to think critically, pursue their dreams and change the world."

The district and university already host a so-called Grow Your Own Program, the St. Paul Urban Teacher Residency, that provides non-faculty school staff a pathway to acquire their teaching licenses.

Gothard said such programs fill two crucial needs schools across the state are facing.

"A, we don't have enough teachers in Minnesota. And B, they don't reflect the students they're teaching," he said.

Nearly 78% of St. Paul pupils are students of color, according to district figures. That compares with fewer than 11% of licensed staff, which includes teachers and counselors, in the state's second-largest school district.

At Maxfield Elementary, students of color comprise 87% of enrollment.

The announcement comes amid efforts in the legislature to boost funding for similar programs to diversify the state's teaching ranks. Gov. Tim Walz is proposing a boost in funding for programs like the St. Paul residency and to dedicate much of that spending increase to train more early childhood educators and teachers in areas such as special education and middle school science that face shortages.