To teachers Jeffrey Long, April Peeden and Jean Tunstall, the hooding ceremony to receive their 2005 Master of Education degrees held special significance. Long, Peeden and Tunstall were among 19 candidates from Johnston County who wouldn't have been standing in the auditorium without the support of an innovative program developed by the Johnston County Schools in cooperation with Campbell University. The Cohort program combined the instructional skills of Campbell's School of Education with funding from the Johnston County Schools to place a Master of Education degree within reach of teachers who might not otherwise have been able to obtain one. "We feel very strongly that it is our responsibility to support our teachers in their professional growth whether it is pursuing a master's degree or national board certification," said Robin Little, director of Human Relations for the Johnston County Schools. "We put this Cohort program together to support them financially as one way of expanding their professional growth." Through a federal Teacher Quality Education grant, the school system was able to pay one-half the tuition cost for the 19 teachers who participated in Campbell's Master of Education program. Campbell University supplied the professors, who traveled to West Johnston High School during the week to hold classes. "The fact that the classes were held in the county was a big motivator for me," said Long, a fifth-grade teacher from McGee's Crossroads elementary . "The way the professors worked with us was fantastic. They really tried to accommodate us." According to Peeden, who received her undergraduate degree from Campbell in 1991, the master's program taught her skills she had never been exposed to before. "We have a lot more students with special needs in our classrooms today," Peeden said. "I learned differentiation strategies for teaching different kinds of learners that will really meet my students' needs." Peeden, who has 15 years teaching experience, is a K-6 instructor at Princeton Elementary School. "This program increases the skills and knowledge of our teachers, as well as creates an avenue of recruitment for us," said Little. "These teachers spread the word about Johnston County and encourage other teachers to join us." To Dr. Karen Nery, dean of the School of Education at Campbell, the program is also a natural recruiting tool. "We were pleased to work with the Johnston County Schools on this collaborative effort," Nery said. "Working with this cadre of students was a pleasure. They were very motivated and excited to have the opportunity to participate in the first of what we hope will be a continuing collaboration with Johnston County." Among other benefits, the teachers who participated in the Cohort program will be eligible for a 10 percent salary increase as a result of obtaining their M.Ed., a bonus that didn't really have much impact on 64-year-old Jean Tunstall, a second-grade teacher at McGee's Crossroads. "It will be nice to get the increase," she said, "but this is not a money thing with me. God led me into teaching. It's what I was supposed to do."