NOBLESVILLE, Ind. – A new apprenticeship program aims to recruit more high school students into teaching special education, and state leaders want it to be a model for new opportunities in other schools.

The program has launched at Noblesville High School. Under the five-year program, juniors and seniors will take classes through Ball State University and get experience working with students, according to Carrie Lively, executive director of The Pursuit Institute of Hamilton County, which helped start the program.

It’s the nation’s first federally-registered apprenticeship program in special education, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

Mackenna Johnson, a Noblesville High School junior, is participating in the new apprenticeship.

“My mom is a special ed aide,” Johnson said. “So I’ve seen how she’s been caring and kind and patient with all those kids. So I’d like to also model that.”

Students who go to Ball State and complete the program will graduate a year early, Lively said.

“We’re creating a pipeline of skilled individuals that can go in and fill the jobs that are going unfilled right now in our local school systems,” Lively said.

The program’s launch comes at a time when more teachers are greatly needed across Indiana, particularly for special education.

The state’s online school job board shows more than 400 teacher openings for special ed as of Thursday.

Indiana Education Secretary Katie Jenner says she hopes to see this kind of program launched in other high schools across the state.

“We have a significant opportunity in Indiana, and really this is nationwide conversation on how we must do everything we can to improve and support our talent pipeline in the area of education,” Jenner said.

“There’s so many places that teachers are needed,” Johnson said. “They’re good role models for our kids, and our kids are our future.”

The state has also launched new efforts to get current teachers to transition into special education. A free graduate program for teachers to get certified in special ed has gotten more than 600 teachers signed up so far, according to the Indiana Department of Education.