When Boglarka “Bo” Lengyel immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary seven years ago, she knew she would have to leave her profession as a lawyer.
Law practice in Hungary follows Roman law while the U.S. uses common law practices, so her degree was invalid in the U.S. So she decided to take a cue from her grandmother who was a teacher in Hungary for 16 years.
“I spent a lot of time with her when I was a kid, and that actually was always my dream, to work in a school,” Lengyel said. “When we moved here, I considered that as a fresh start.”
However, she didn’t have the degree she needed, so she began working as an assistant to Tricia Allen, an assistant principal of Pine View School, as a way to get her foot in the door.
Still, she was unsure how to get a teaching position with an out-of-field degree.
“I didn’t know that I had that option here because it’s not an option in Hungary,” she said. “I just knew that I wanted to be surrounded by kids.”
After Pine View administrators heard about Lengyel’s dream, they told her about the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation’s Emerging Educators program.
The Emerging Educators program was created by the Barancik Foundation three years ago to support adults who want to become educators.
In its first cohort, the Barancik Foundation approached Sarasota County Schools to identify parents, substitute teachers and other interested adults.
After sifting through applications, the foundation financially supported 25 cohort members who already had bachelor’s degrees but not teaching degrees. The cohort members work at their own pace to get their degree through State College of Florida or a university of their choice.
“In almost every case, these are people who are doing something else,” said John Annis, the foundation’s senior vice president for collaboration and impact. “They are taking on an additional responsibility because they really want to pursue a teaching career.”
About 12 members of the first cohort were employed with the district after a year and a half. After seeing success with the first cohort, the foundation began taking applications for the second cohort, this time focusing on diverse applicants, so Lengyel decided to apply.
Allen wrote a recommendation letter for Lengyel, who then got in the program in February 2020. She’s now halfway through the program and is in her first year as a second grade teacher at Pine View.
Although a large benefit of the program is financial support, being in the cohort has benefits beyond money, Annis said.
“The idea of a cohort was they would study together, they would become teachers together, they would support each other as teachers throughout their careers,” Annis said. “So there was some support that happened automatically.”
Although the cohort members can work and study together, each one has different steps to take to receive their certification.
Throughout the program, members of the Barancik Foundation check in on the aspiring teachers to help them get through their checklist of things they need to do, such as take tests or practice interviewing skills, before receiving their teaching certificate.
“If I have a question, if I have a test to take and need help, they’re here with information or financial help, whatever I need,” Lengyel said.
The Barancik Foundation sets aside about $250,000 for each cohort, but it typically over-budgets, Annis said, in case teachers need to take certification tests more than once or need more classes than anticipated.
After two cohorts, the district has placed about 25 members in a classroom. Annis said Barancik Foundation staff will ask the board for another round of funding for a third cohort in the spring.
Annis said the next cohort might focus on STEM or English as a second language teachers because he sees a need in the community.
“We have frequent contact with the district to look at who is going to be retiring, who’s leaving courses, the growth in certain areas and what the greatest demand will be because we want to recruit people that are going to help satisfy the demand,” he said.
Even though Lengyel said that although it has been difficult taking online classes while managing a classroom during a pandemic, she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“It’s fantastic being in the classroom,” she said. “It really is the best thing ever, and I’m not exaggerating,” Lengyel said. “I’m where I want to be 100%.”