Polk State brings teacher education closer to home for students in Winter Haven, East Polk

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Polk State College is expanding its Education Program with classes starting in August on the Winter Haven Campus. Students who live on the east side of Polk County are grateful for the opportunity to save on the cost and time it takes to commute to the program which has traditionally been offered solely on the Lakeland Campus.

Students will be able to complete the Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education on the Winter Haven Campus, as well as field study and internship experiences at East Polk schools.

“Our department is expanding to the Winter Haven Campus because we have students all over Polk County who need access to college. Having the education program on the Winter Haven Campus is going to be beneficial because these students will not have to travel to Lakeland for their field experiences and for their internships,” Professor of Education Amanda Hurtt said. “They will be able to do these assignments right in their hometown.”

Polk State is proud to serve as the only public postsecondary institution offering state-approved teacher education preparation programs in Polk County. This is also why it is critical for the College to expand its offerings to the Winter Haven Campus.

Accessibility for everybody

“The Education Program here is affordable, it’s accessible, and the professors really care about the students,” student Hans Pedrigal said. “Having classes in Winter Haven will save me time and money because instead of making that 30-to-40-minute trip, I can have a 5-to-15-minute trek.”

Peers – even those who live in Lakeland – echoed this excitement for their classmates and future students.

“Some of my classmates drive very long ways to come to school,” student Megan Ford said. “Polk State is like a second home to me. It’s very important to be able to have accessibility to education for everybody, regardless of where [they] live.”

Classes on the Winter Haven Campus will benefit students like Genesis Colonleon, who balances being a parent and taking care of her mom with her pursuit of higher education.

“To have classes in Winter Haven will be amazing just because I have a little one at home and my mom is sick,” she shared. “Sometimes I have to travel quickly to get there to help [my mom] or my son, so that would be amazing.”

The full experience

The experience in Winter Haven will mirror the offerings on the Lakeland Campus.

“They will have all the same courses, the same support, and the same field experiences,” Hurtt explained.

“The Education Program here is affordable, it’s accessible, and the professors really care about the students.”

Polk State’s Education Program is known for its quality and innovative instruction that prepares students to become skilled leaders of local classrooms. Polk State has built-in measurements for state-mandated standards that were developed in collaboration with Polk County Public Schools – Polk County’s largest employer – to create graduates who are immediately ready for employment.

The Education baccalaureate program’s graduates boast a 100% pass rate on the Florida Teacher Certification Examinations (FTCE). More than 167 graduates from the Polk State Education Program are teaching in nearly 60 Polk County Public Schools. Others are in private schools, other districts, or out of state.

For 2024, three graduates – Tracy Garcia, Heather Kunze, and Ashley Ray – were named Teacher of the Year at their schools. Current student Julia Barnett was also recognized as School-Related Employee of the Year.

To give students a competitive edge in employment, Polk State provides English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL); Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM); Exceptional Student Education (ESE); and Reading K-12 Endorsement competencies within its curriculum.

“We’re excited that as professors we will be able to have our hands in both campuses, provide our students with the same opportunities and the same experiences, and then allow them to quickly get back to their families and their homes,” Professor of Education Joanne Scharff added.


Students and prospective students who are interested in the Polk State Education Program and/or taking classes on the Winter Haven Campus are encouraged to email educationbachelors@polk.edu and visit polk.edu/education for more information.

“If you are passionate about children and helping students get to another level of being successful, I 100% recommend joining us in the Education Program here at Polk State College,” Ford said.