CHARLESTON - A program that helps veterans become teachers is growing in West Virginia.
West Virginia's Troops to Teachers program is part of a national initiative to encourage veterans to become teachers in low-income communities.
Wood County Schools' two ROTC commanders are part of the Troops to Teachers program.
The Mountain State's program ranked 12th in the nation for placing veterans in school systems in 2011.
State coordinator Robert Mellace tells the Charleston Daily Mail that 40 veterans have been hired since 2008, compared to an average of one per year from 1994 to 2008.
"We've definitely helped veterans pinpoint an area where there's a need," Mellace said.
Bob Harris, assistant superintendent of pupil and personnel services for Wood County Schools, said retired Lt. Col. Thomas Sparaco of Parkersburg South High School's Air Force Junior ROTC program and Cmdr. John Snively of Parkersburg High School's Navy National Defense Cadet Corps are both part of the Troops to Teachers program.
"In those instances, they were both recruited by the Air Force and Navy and are still considered in service to those," Harris said. "They do not have teaching degrees, but they do have authorization through the state."
West Virginia's program has drawn interest from 850 veterans around the world, and more than 300 have registered in the state.
The program gives veterans counseling on how the skills they acquired in the military can be used in a classroom setting and provides information on job openings.
Harris said the program also offers troops pathways to certification and higher education when placing them in areas of need, such as subject areas where there are not enough teachers or in geographic areas where there is high poverty. Those placements are recommended through the state Department of Education.
Qualifying veterans can also get as much as $5,000 to cover the cost of certification programs or a $10,000 bonus to teach in a low-income district. Those agreements require teachers to commit to three years or service in the schools.
School districts like to hire veterans, Mellace said, because they are leaders and role models.
Mellace will be outlining the details of the program during a career fair Thursday in at George Washington High School in Charleston. Veterans can meet with 51 prospective employers during that event.
There are roughly 170,000 veterans in West Virginia.
News and Sentinel reporter Michael Erb contributed to this report.