A state program is combating Oklahoma's teacher shortage, by creating homegrown educators while they are still high school students.

Dove Science Academy is one of the 14 high schools participating in the pilot year of Teach Oklahoma, and teachers there say they are already seeing success. So far, among the 29 students enrolled in the elective class at Dove, it has helped about five of them decide that education is the path for them.

Leading assignments, grading papers and helping students understand the curriculum are becoming easier by the day for Benito Santillan, a senior at Dove. Being a Teach Oklahoma “intern” has solidified his plan to become a high school math teacher.

“It’s like a tree,” he said. “It’s like you’re planting a seed in that kid, the seed of knowledge, and then he branches out and teaches others and then those kids teach others.”

For Dove senior Jason Long, Teach Oklahoma is exposing new opportunities and a different point of view.

“I always thought of computer engineer or forensic scientist, but then Teach Oklahoma lets us see teaching as a possibility in life,” Long said.

The Oklahoma State Regents of Higher Education think Teach Oklahoma, under the Oklahoma Teacher Connection umbrella, is the long-term answer to new graduates fleeing the state for better paying jobs. A Stanford study shows 75 percent of all teachers stay within 150 miles of their hometown.

Students spend the year learning about teaching and implementing those lessons in the classroom, and hiding nothing, coordinators expose students in the program to salary comparisons in hopes that the desire to help others wins out. The program is free to schools and has an online curriculum for coordinators to access at any time.

“A lot of people, they want money to be successful and stuff, but money shouldn’t really matter. It’s just you doing whatever you love to do,” said Dove senior Luz Escalera, who aspires to be an elementary school teacher.

Dove's Teach Oklahoma instructor Silap Berdiyev said the program has been so successful in the first year that the school plans to expand the class and make it available to more students.

“My goal with this program in the next five years is to have half of my Teach Oklahoma students become a teacher,” he said.

The state also makes grant money available to the classes so they can take field trips to local college education departments, make T-shirts and foster a bond between the students through other activities.

Oklahoma Teacher Connection is looking to bring the class to more schools next year. To learn more, click here.