(As seen on WZZM TV 13) School districts in the region are looking to the future by exposing their students to a familiar profession.
Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kent ISD and North Muskegon Public Schools were among 44 school districts in the state to receive $10,000 in federal Title IIA funding to provide opportunities for students in grades 6-12 to explore a pathway to a career in the education field through the state’s Future Proud Michigan Explore program.
The program is designed to grow and diversify the educator workforce and reduce an educator shortage.
According to MI School Data, there are approximately 110,800 K-12 teachers in the state for the 2020-21 school year. Approximately 90.9% of those teachers are white; 6.4% are African American; 1.1% are Hispanic; and 1% are Asian.
Kalamazoo Public Schools is made up of 24 schools: 17 elementary, four middle and three high schools.
Sheila Dorsey-Smith, assistant superintendent for Kalamazoo Public Schools, said 13% of the district’s teachers are African American; however, 38% of its student body is African American, according to MI School Data.
To ensure that there will be a diverse teacher workforce in the future, Dorsey-Smith said they will use the funding for teachers to write curriculums and to start an extracurricular activity called Young Educator Society (YES), which will be a club that introduces students to all aspects of teaching, promotes leadership and provides experience for older students mentoring young students during their afterschool programs.
“It gives them a safe space to learn and talk about teaching and the teaching profession,” she said.
Prior to receiving the funding, Dorsey-Smith said district officials started working with colleges and formed partnerships to get their high school students interested in the profession, but realized they needed to start much earlier, preferably with students in middle school.
“When you go to a school from kindergarten to 12th grade and you never have a teacher who looks like you, it does something to you on the inside,” she said. “For our students to believe that they can do this, they must see mirrors of themselves before them. In order to change the data that we have, we must encourage young people to become teachers so that others want to become teachers. They want to do it so they can impact entire families. If you can change a child, you can change a whole family dynamic. If a child can become successful through teaching, then their family changes, so I am hoping they can become teachers and change the narrative.”
Dorsey-Smith said the goal is to keep students from entering low-wage jobs just to survive after high school.
“They can be leaders in their community. They can become strong and respected,” she said. “They can mentor others. They can help pull up others who look like them.”
Kent ISD is made up of 20 public school districts, as well as parochial schools and public-school academies.
According to MI School Data, the school district is educating more than 100,300 K-12 students for the 2020-21 school year. Approximately 94.5% of Kent ISD teachers are white, with about 2.1% Black and 1.7% Hispanic.
Ron Koehler, Kent ISD interim superintendent, said, albeit small, they will be using the $10,000 grant to provide a new program for student exploration of teaching as a career.
“We began working on that project a little more than a year ago and this fall we will offer through our Tech Center a program that will provide for students who may aspire to be a teacher the same type of exposure to the field and its requirements as we offer in fields ranging from agriscience to health careers,” he said.
Along with capturing students’ interest in the teaching profession, Koehler said, its Teacher Academy will put extra emphasis on recruiting from schools with diverse populations, as district officials hope to produce a field of educator candidates who will resemble the student population they are called on to teach.