BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Bay District Schools continue to fight the battle of not having enough teachers. They are hoping a new scholars program will help staff classrooms.

“In 2000, we had anywhere from 20 to 60 applicants for every job, completely different now, sometimes we’re lucky if we have one or two applicants for every job,” BDS Director of Communications Sharon Michalik said.

District officials have created a new program called Bay District Scholars, to help paraprofessionals receive a bachelor’s degree to be able to teach inside a classroom.

“A lot of these people are our teacher’s assistants but some of these people are bus drivers and some of them are stadium employees, and some of them are clerical assistants so they’re all people who work in our schools,” Michalik said.

On Monday night representatives from Florida State University Panama City, Gulf Coast State College, and Grand Canyon University spoke to those interested in becoming a teacher. Course options include virtual, hybrid, and in-person. The St. Joe Community Foundation and the Bay Education Foundation are partners with Bay District Schools. The district, universities, and foundations will help cover most of the tuition costs and support those in the program.

“It’s just such a great opportunity that they’re giving people that can’t afford it or maybe even people that don’t think they have the time, are too busy and they’re going to be such support for these people so I think it’s just amazing thing that they’re doing,” Hutchison Beach Elementary Guidance Para Daizy Richardson said.

BDS officials hope the scholar’s program continues to grow each year.

“Our goal is to continue to enroll these cohorts and graduate 100 teachers a year so that’s going to take us a while to get to that level but that’s kind of the program’s goal is to graduate 100 teachers a year to fill about half of the vacancies that we know we’ll have every year,” Michalik said.

For those interested, another orientation will be held on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at the Nelson Building.