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By Mike DeNardo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — An influential nonprofit is opening its checkbook to help to develop middle school math and science teachers in Philadelphia.

Lou Bellardine, the Philadelphia School District’s Chief Talent Officer, knows how difficult it is to find qualified math and science teachers for fourth through eighth grade. Enter the Philadelphia School Partnership, which is giving $1.2 million to Drexel University to launch a middle school teacher training program.

“It’s one of our hardest-to-fill positions,” said Bellardine.

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PSP Executive Director Mark Gleason says district, charter and catholic schools share the need.

“They’re telling us ‘our teacher pipeline is not strong enough, and in particular in the middle grades it’s especially a problem,'” Gleason said.

The grant will go a long way to put together programs focused on teaching future educators how to teach in inner-city schools. Finding qualified teachers to fill nearly 1,000 open teaching positions yearly can be a challenge.

“Pennsylvania recently switched to where you need a specific certification for grades four through eight and not that many teachers have that certification, and so many schools are struggling to find qualified middle school teachers in those three areas — math, science and education,” Gleason said.

The Dragons Teach Middle Years program aims to produce 40 graduates a year by 2022. Twenty-year-old Aja Sor hopes to be among them.

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“There’s kids from the neighborhood and one might be more well-off and one might not be able to eat dinner that night. So I feel as though me being from Philly I’ve prepared myself because I’ve been that kid,” Sor said.

Gleason says the Drexel students will spend 30 weeks as student teachers, more than twice the norm.

CBS3’s Lauren Casey contributed to the report.

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