During their first semester at USC Aiken, nine freshman education majors are getting early opportunities to visit the Aiken County School District’s K-12 classrooms.

Last spring, they received four-year Teaching Fellows scholarships of up to $24,000 – joining nearly 200 other first-year students attending 11 other colleges statewide.

The South Carolina Teaching Fellows Program has started accepting applications for their next cohort. The application, which can be found at teachingfellows.com, is open to high school seniors in South Carolina who are interested in becoming teachers.

Those who complete a degree leading to teacher license must agree to teach in a South Carolina public school for one year, every year, they receive the Fellowship. USCA was accepted into the program for the 2015-16 year, so that any high school seniors in the state could apply to the university.

Some of the current students live in the Aiken County area, while the others attending USCA are from communities elsewhere in the state.

USCA officials were excited to welcome their first group of Teaching Fellows, said USCA Professor Dr. Tim Lintner, the program director at the university.

“They are busy working with USC Aiken alumni in Aiken County K-12 classrooms - observing, assisting and teaching.” he said by email on Monday.

The S.C. General Assembly established the program in 1999. The Rock Hill-based Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement – most often known as CERRA – serves as the program coordinator statewide.

In 2004, South Aiken High School senior Aaron Edwards received a Fellows scholarship to attend the College of Charleston as an education major. After teaching in Lowcountry schools for several years, he returned home to join the South Aiken staff as a history teacher..

“Teaching Fellows really set me on that direction,” he said in May. “The College of Charleston is a good school ... and I loved what I was doing.”

In addition to their USCA classes and the chance to work with K-12 teachers, the first-year Fellows are participating in community service outreach projects. They are developing and practicing leadership skills inside and outside the classroom.

As teacher-leaders, the Teaching Fellows are developing and practicing leadership skills – both inside and outside the classroom.

“That will better serve the educational needs of all South Carolina students,” Lintner said.

Rob Novit contributed to this article.