For Akins High School student Kayla Ford, the school’s teacher training programs helped her pursue her interests in counseling, she said at a South by Southwest Education Conference and Festivals panel.

"I found out how to communicate with other people, understand why people act the way they do, and it makes you more open-minded and helps you take time to think about 'what am I doing to help other people?'" Ford said.

The panel called “Grow Your Own Teachers” outlined the district’s student teaching programs to an audience of students, teachers, administrators and guests from the Austin area and beyond.

“Keep Austin Teaching” trains high school students who are interested in becoming teachers or counselors by giving them 300 hours of classroom experience at AISD elementary and middle schools, culminating in a ParaEducator Certification upon graduation.

One of the classes Ford and other AISD students participated in at participating AISD elementary schools was teaching impulse control and behavioral improvement through yoga.

This introduction to teaching and counseling techniques has led students to influence policy changes, the panelists said.

In February 2017, AISD banned school suspensions for students in Pre-K through second grade, a policy that eventually became introduced in the Texas Legislature later in the year.

Rocio Villalobos, one of the panelists and the community outreach coordinator for Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit partner of AISD’s student teaching programs, said the students are playing a role in policy changes that address social injustice.

“They played a significant role even though maybe it didn't feel like that in the moment when they were just going to speak in front of the school board,” Villalobos said. “It had a tremendous impact in the state and for the small kids that they will be working with in the future.”

Administrators are hopeful for a recruitment tool for the district that allows teachers to stay in touch with students who pursue a degree in education after graduating, district administrators said during the question and answer session following the panel.

"I really want to take my skills and my communication and all the things that I know and turn it into something big and turn it into something positive,” Ford said.