Davenport, GRPS focus on teacher shortage

Partners offering 75 scholarships to attract new generation of educators.
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Leadriane Roby, left, superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, and Richard Pappas, president of Davenport University, sign the STEM Educator Scholarship Partner Program agreement. Courtesy Davenport University

A new partnership between Davenport University and Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) is anticipated to provide a solution to Michigan’s teacher shortage.

By offering 75 scholarships of up to $12,000 each toward urban STEM education degrees, the STEM Educator Scholarship Partner Program hopes to attract and retain talented educators.

“Grand Rapids Public Schools has always been an incredible partner with Davenport and was one of the first to participate in our College of Urban Education offerings,” said Richard J. Pappas, president of Davenport University. “It is an honor to work with this incredible team to now create an advanced education opportunity for current and future teachers.”

The program will offer up to 25 scholarships for current GRPS students, up to 25 for GRPS school employees and up to 25 for parents of students currently enrolled in GRPS. Each scholarship will provide up to $12,000 a year, which is renewable for up to four years. Money from the scholarship can be applied toward tuition, fees, housing, meal plans, books and more.

By offering scholarships toward STEM education to GRPS employees and parents of GRPS students, the program casts a wide net to encourage not only high school graduates but also those around them who may have interest in pursuing a career in education.

“It’s providing a wide range of potential,” Pappas said.

Davenport University’s College of Urban Education has made this program available to 10 school systems throughout the state. Pappas noted interest in the program in Detroit but said GRPS is the first district to sign the memorandum of understanding with Davenport.

Davenport’s urban education curriculum began seven years ago by offering a master’s degree program. According to Pappas, the program was built on three main components throughout the teaching and learning process. Diversity and inclusion curriculum is included throughout the entirety of each degree program, rather than one or two classes focused on the topic. Data analytics also is used to ensure professors are teaching equivalently to all students in their classes. Weekly coaching also is provided for students to allow them to apply their learning.

Pappas said this program saw double-digit increases in teacher effectiveness and student engagement, according to university research.

In the last year, Davenport has expanded offerings to include a bachelor’s degree, which will be available for the first time this fall. He said the goal was to not only create a greater impact on the landscape of Michigan educators, but also to make the program more accessible to students of color.

With this, the STEM Educator Scholarship Partner Program was born. It is focused on the same principles that guided Davenport’s education program from the start, but with one major addition. The program will now have students doing hands-on service learning in public school classrooms their freshman year.

Pappas said the goal is to create cultural competency in students from the beginning of their education, ensuring that future teachers are embedded in the culture and environment of urban teaching. He cites the high turnover rates in urban public schools as proof that educators are graduating from college unprepared for the classrooms into which they are heading.

“When we notice there’s a talent gap, we create new programs,” Pappas said.

Michigan’s teacher shortage is part of a nationwide crisis in public education. The increasing rate of teacher burnout driven by the pressure placed on educators during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to higher turnover rates in the field.

Nationwide movements to increase teacher salaries are only one method of solving this problem. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a budget plan in February that allocated over $2 billion to retain teachers and enhance educator recruitment to keep and attract teachers in Michigan schools.

University of Michigan-based research team Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) found that in the 2020-21 school year, more teachers left the profession than entered it. In 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20, the opposite was true.

Launch Michigan’s 2021 Michigan educator survey took a look at educator satisfaction in Michigan public school systems, finding that almost 60% of those surveyed agreed that increased mentor support for early-career teachers and principals would make the most impact in improving Michigan schools. When asked how schools and districts could best tailor professional learning opportunities to the needs of educators, 54% placed high importance on mentorship from other educators in the same grade and subject area.

Davenport’s program takes these concerns into consideration, allowing students to immerse themselves in the urban school systems in which they will be teaching before graduation to better prepare them for the public education field. Pappas also stressed the importance of the continuing education offered to teachers graduating Davenport’s education program, ensuring that the teachers themselves receive ongoing support as they head into their careers.

The scholarship program also is focused on first-generation students and students of color. According to Pappas, the graduation and retention of underrepresented students is crucial to the program’s success.

“If we do better in our retention of first-generation and POC (persons of color) students, it will make a huge difference,” he said. “Students want to see people like themselves. This is not a new program or degree; this is a difference maker.”

GRPS leadership feels the same way.

“Davenport University has been an instrumental partner in helping us enhance the learning of our current staff to address the unique needs of our students for the last decade,” said Leadriane Roby, superintendent of GRPS. “Their approach to weekly mentorship has been revolutionary and we are thrilled now to extend this scholarship opportunity to our students, staff and community to address the real teacher talent crisis our community is facing.”

The scholarship program is available on a first-come, first-served basis. More information on the program can be found at davenport.edu/STEM-partner.

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