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Distance learning program graduates first class

"The class that conducted commencement ceremonies at Naval Station Bremerton's Olympic Lodge Aug. 18 was a little different from those that graduated across the country last spring.The 25 students, most of the them middle-aged, were the first to graduate from the Military Career Transition Program run by Virginia-based Old Dominion University out of Subase Bangor. Each earned master of science in education degrees. It's a major milestone, said Bill Schafer, director of curriculum and instructional standard at Bangor. They (the graduates) will take with them skill and knowledge money can't buy.The program is part of the Troops to Teachers program, which helps current and former Navy personnel and their spouses earn teaching degrees. Credit can be accumulated from career experience and previous education. Students use traditional classes and Web education to gain the 33-45 credit hours needed to graduate. Military veterans make perfect teachers, said Military Career Transition Program director Robert MacDonald, who started the program in Virginia in 1988 with 40 students. MacDonald, looking to create an educational program for those who couldn't make it to the classroom, saw military personnel as ideal teaching candidates.When you are in the military, you spend your whole time either teaching or learning, MacDonald said. They are trained to teach.The 12-year-old program, now available at 18 sites, has produced 1,350 graduates teaching in 47 states. Grads are more likely to teach math and science than their non-military counterparts, and about 90 percent of the graduates find jobs soon after commencement.Of all the programs, though, the Bangor group has been a standout. Since it started in January 1998, administrators said the first group has excelled faster than expected and have achieved more than what many thought was possible. This is the most successful start-up we have had, said Andria Forte, coordinator for MCTP Distance Education.One standout was Alfredo Athie, who completed the program, designed to take 18 months, in less than a year. Although Athie finished up the program with what looked like relative ease, he said it is not for those who do not have a military work ethic.It's not for everyone, Athie said. I was willing to put in everything I had.All the graduates said their love for children led them to education degrees. Marlene Lancaster shared stories of how children have made her cry in pain and joy during in her 18 years of teaching.They (children) will make you scream, 'God, I love this job!' Lancaster said. The night ended as many other commencement ceremonies do - gown-wearing graduates received their diplomas and posed for pictures. But with such a small group, the feelings of achievement seemed more tender than graduations from universities where thousands of students matriculate without getting to know one another. As Forte gave the closing speech, she ended with an exhortation to all the graduates to realize their potential. We all have the greatest confidence you will be the greatest teachers, Forte said. "

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