Lauren Lightsey teaches intensive reading at Lake Wales High School, where she can relate firsthand to her students because she, too, struggled with mastering the reading curriculum. She completed the Educator Preparation Institute at Polk State College in 2012 but didn’t start testing for her teaching certifications until 2019.
“I’m not a great test taker and had to take the reading certification exam five times until I finally passed it,” Lightsey said. “Reading is a subject that students struggle with on the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). Some students haven’t passed it. Having to meet that requirement to graduate is a lot of pressure.”
“I understand what it’s like to feel what they feel,” she added. “I try to encourage them and help them feel like they are not less than others because they are in my class. Some people think there is a stigma to the class, but I try to keep the energy high and give the students the confidence to pass the test.”
Lightsey graduated from Warner University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Communications with a minor in Social Work. She worked full-time at the Lake Wales Care Center when she felt a calling to do something different. That’s when she learned of the Educator Preparation Institute (EPI) at Polk State.
EPI is a competency-based certification program that provides a state-approved pathway to a Florida Professional Teaching Certificate for individuals with bachelor’s degrees in any discipline. Through EPI, teacher candidates learn the skills to become highly qualified teachers in a fraction of the time and cost required for a traditional education degree.
After completing the program in 2012, Lightsey was offered a job at a local university as a resident director for student life.
“So, I didn’t complete my tests then, which was silly of me,” she said. “But I was still called to teach. I had seven years from the time I completed the program to complete my certifications and thought to myself, ‘I have to get this done.’”
She was able to enter the classroom in 2019 on a temporary teaching license while she worked to complete her certification exams.
“I was given two years to teach in the classroom while I took my exams. Last year, I finally passed the reading portion. It meant I didn’t have to go look for another job,” Lightsey said with a sigh of relief. “A great benefit of Polk State’s EPI Program is that it prepped us well for those competencies including two of five valuable endorsements – ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] and Reading.”
The EPI certificate includes credits for Reading Competency 2 and ESOL.
The program was especially beneficial for Lightsey as a visual, hands-on learner, she added.
“The program included an internship which was great because I was able to observe a teacher, talk to the students, and learn the day-to-day schedule and operations of the classroom,” Lightsey explained. “I was able to then create a lesson and teach that lesson, which was nerve-wracking, but the teacher was able to observe me and provide constructive criticism.”
Lightsey shared that going back to school was intimidating, and “teaching sounded scary.”
“But Polk State’s EPI Program really provided me with a strong foundation of what to expect in the school system. The professors did a great job at taking the pressure off and providing us with the material and support to be successful,” she said.
Now she serves not only as a successful teacher but also as a role model for her students.
“I enjoy my job and the rapport I’ve built with the students,” Lightsey said. “I let my students see me as a person, not just their teacher. That helps break down those walls.”
In her third year of teaching, Lightsey feels confident in her role.
“Polk State prepared me to go into the classroom and I am thankful for the program,” she shared. “It’s easy to enroll, it prepared me for my job in education, and I’ve already recommended it to several of my friends. Like I tell my students, you can do it.”