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October 4, 2007

UW, community college team up to create teacher education program for diverse students

News and Information

A new partnership between the UW and Seattle Central Community College is creating an education pathway for prospective elementary school teachers and encouraging a sense of community among the participants.

The initiative, inaugurated under the Teachers for a New Era (TNE) program, has recruited its first cohort into the community college’s teacher training program. The 13 students recently met for their first orientation, culminating over a year of work to align the efforts of the two schools.

“You’re not on your own,” says Wanda Brown, director of preschool-12th grade engagement for TNE, which is funded by the Carnegie Corp. of New York. “You can take advantage of lots of support. Your job,” Brown tells the students, “is to do the best you can academically, to meet the deadlines for scholarship programs, and to show that you can be successful.”

Students in this first cohort were recruited from graduating seniors at so-called “high need” high schools in Seattle, Bellevue and Renton. The TNE team also worked on attracting current community college students from diverse backgrounds, with an emphasis on students who are underrepresented in higher education and the teaching profession.

Seattle Central’s student population is very diverse. Just 8 percent of students are European American, while 34 percent are African American, 25 percent Asian or Asian American, 17 percent Indigenous and 8 percent Hispanic/Latino. About half of the students report their first language is not English. And 80 percent are the first in their family to participate in higher education.

“One of the important motivating factors for this program is social justice,” says Brown. “We want to close the achievement gap in our schools.”

School districts across the country have struggled with finding ways of narrowing the achievement gap between ethnic minorities and Caucasian students in the K-12 system. The TNE program aims at addressing this problem through aggressive recruitment of a diverse population of future teachers, and by providing a teacher training that prepares teachers-to-be with real world experience, including the obstacles that they must learn to overcome to help all students. TNE is involved in all three phases of this new program, working collaboratively on recruitment, outreach and support activities to ensure the program’s success.

Phase I of the new initiative begins at Seattle Central, where students will be enrolled in a program that leads, after two full-time years, to an associate in elementary education. The program has been aligned with undergraduate baccalaureate teaching programs offered in Washington, including the newly created “education minor” sponsored jointly by the UW College of Education and College of Arts and Sciences, as well as the Masters in Teaching/Teacher Education Program offered by the College of Education, says Lisa Saunders, who manages the teacher training and education programs at Seattle Central. Nine of the 13 students in this first group have received full tuition scholarships through the community college’s foundation. Some students also are receiving federal financial aid. Saunders has smoothed the path for students needing financial aid and also serves as a member of the team that awards scholarships.

As part of the Introduction to Education Class at Seattle Central, students will spend at least 30 hours working with UW College of Education masters students in a public school in the region. “You will be sent to schools with a high poverty rate and with low achievement scores,” says Brown, who worked in public schools for more than 20 years as an elementary school teacher, assistant principal and principal. “Those kinds of schools are the ones likely to have openings for new teachers.”

TNE is establishing a mentoring program for these students, composed of master teachers and key community members with a strong interest in education. The students also have been invited to attend a yearlong lecture series offered by Bush School on issues of diversity and privilege. And they are encouraged to become members of Teachers of Tomorrow, a student-run club which holds its own activities in support of the teacher education program.

Already, although classes are just beginning, the students need to start thinking about Phase II, transfer to the UW. Saunders emphasizes that students need to have a grade point average of at least 3.0 to qualify for admission to the UW. At the UW, the students will choose a “content area” for their undergraduate major while pursuing a minor in education. Many of these transfer students are likely to be eligible for the Husky Promise program and other forms of financial aid.

“This orientation session is a major milestone for us,” Brown says. “We’ve managed to bring together all the key players — the College of Education, the Office of Minority Affairs, the College of Arts and Sciences, Seattle Central and the public schools. We expect this cohort of students to spend a lot of time together over the next two years, and we’re going to provide whatever support is necessary to help them succeed. They may help provide a solution to the problems that prevent every student in our public schools from reaching his or her potential.”

Phase III, the culmination of the program, will be one additional year at the UW for a master’s in education. Although some students may be deterred by the idea of a five-year program, the reality for teachers in Washington is that certification requires five years, whether in a traditional four-year program followed by a year’s certification, or the UW master’s program. One advantage of the UW program is that a starting teacher’s pay will be higher than with just a certificate.

Teachers for a New Era is a multifaceted program consisting of more than 20 separate projects, all of which are designed to reinvent teacher preparation. For more information, see http://depts.washington.edu/wactl/tne/about/index.html.