MSU-Meridian announces innovative approach to education degree

MERIDIAN, Miss.—A new initiative at Mississippi State University-Meridian is helping teacher assistants complete the educational requirements to become licensed teachers.

Chastity Galyean is among area residents taking advantage of the new Professional Advancement Network for Teacher Assistants [PANTA] initiative at MSU-Meridian.

A teacher assistant at Enterprise Elementary School, she is a 1996 Meridian High School graduate who enrolled immediately in Meridian Community College. However, like many first-time college students, Galyean said she did not make class studies a priority as an 18-year-old, and she entered the workforce without completing a degree.

Now as a PANTA student, the mother of four has begun accumulating the academic knowledge and skills required to become a licensed teacher, while still working full-time with her school district.

“I have worked in education for approximately 10 years now and often have been encouraged to finish my degree,” she said. “As a wife, mother and full-time employee, a traditional college class schedule would be extremely difficult.”

Galyean said she is pleased to now have professional training “that accommodates my schedule and has made my dream of becoming a licensed teacher a possibility.”

Instructor Jeffrey Leffler of the university’s Division of Education is PANTA adviser. While similar programs are offered at universities and colleges around the state, he said this recent addition at MSU-Meridian is the only one with a hybrid format.

“We believe this format that combines both online and face-to-face instruction truly will optimize the learning experiences for the students enrolled in our elementary education program,” Leffler emphasized.

MSU-Meridian’s formal partnerships with area community colleges also sets MSU-Meridian’s PANTA initiative apart from others.

“We have been working with around 50-60 teacher assistants from approximately 10 school districts in the East Mississippi area that are interested in and working toward application requirements for acceptance into PANTA,” Leffler explained. “These partnerships provide a local, affordable avenue to take their pre-requisite course work, and our MSU advisers on site at the community colleges help ensure the students take only the classes they need.”

Once accepted, PANTA participants are assigned to a cohort and progress as a group. The cohort model “allows us to provide specialized support,” Leffler said.

While Galyean and one other student are already making headway toward PANTA requirements, the 2017 cohort begins this summer.

At graduation, participants receive a bachelor of science degree in elementary education, with concentrations either in early childhood or middle-level education. They also complete a study program leading to one of three licensure options: pre-kindergarten through third grade; pre-K through sixth grade; or K-6 with seventh- and eighth-grade endorsements in two subject areas.

Though designed primarily for teacher assistants, Leffler said PANTA also is available to other para-professionals working in elementary school settings. 

The Lauderdale County School District currently has teacher assistants from three of four elementary schools working to complete PANTA enrollment requirements, said Superintendent Randy Hodges.

The MSU-Meridian initiative “provides our assistants the opportunity to put into practice what they are learning as they complete their degree in elementary education,” the veteran administrator Screenshot of a video on WTOK with Chastity Galyean sitting at a table with her studentsobserved. Graduates then “will enter the profession well equipped to fill teacher vacancies within our district.”

Galyean agreed, saying PANTA “has given me an opportunity that I did not think was possible” and, for which, “I forever will be grateful.”

For more information about PANTA, contact Leffler at or 601-484-0187.

Complete details about MSU-Meridian are online at

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Photo:  Chastity Galyean is a kindergarten teacher assistant at Enterprise Elementary


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