Group wants race gap closed

Cites lack of di­ver­sity among teach­ers in ur­ban schools

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Linda Con­ner Lam­beck

BRIDGE­PORT — The only male role mod­els Ryan Brown re­calls while at­tend­ing Dan­bury High School was his foot­ball coaches.

“They had my back,” Brown re­calls fondly. But they did not look like him.

Now a sev­enth- grade math teacher at Read School, Brown, 29, said he has a hand­ful of col­leagues who, like him­self, are black. Not nearly enough, he added.

So when the op­por­tu­nity came to work with other mem­bers of Ed­u­ca­tors for Ex­cel­lence on a pa­per that ex­plored how to im­prove the ra­tio of mi­nor­ity teach­ers in ur­ban set­tings and cre­ate a more cul­tur­ally re­spon­sive cur­ricu­lum, Brown said it was a no- brainer.

“We all rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of hav­ing teach­ers and school lead­ers of color, yet a ma­jor dis­par­ity be­tween teach­ers and stu­dents per­sists,” said Brown. “I hope this pa­per spurs changes that will en­sure a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion for our stu­dents in Bridge­port and through­out the state.”

The just- re­leased re­port, “Stu­dents To­day, Ed­u­ca­tors To­mor­row” calls for more cul­tur­ally re­spon­sive teacher train­ing, pro­grams that groom stu­dents of color to con­sider teach­ing as a pro­fes­sion, state­sup­ported “Grow Your Own” pro­grams that of­fer free col­lege tu­ition in ex­change for re­turn­ing to the dis­trict to teach and a pro­gram to of­fer hous­ing sub­sides for teach­ers, par­tic­u­larly in Fair­field County where the cost of liv­ing is high.

“We wanted to be re­al­is­tic. We didn’t just want to throw things out in the air,” said Sheree Bald­win- Muham­mad, an-

other of the re­port’s nine au­thors. She teaches at New Be­gin­nings Fam­ily Academy, a char­ter school lo­cated in the city.

She hopes the re­port can be a cat­a­lyst for leg­isla­tive change, or at least dis­cus­sion.

It has yet to be shared, how­ever, with dis­trict or state ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials, law­mak­ers or Bridge­port Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, the lo­cal teacher’s union.

E4E is a na­tion­wide, teacher- led or­ga­ni­za­tion that has been in Bridge­port for five years. It has a some­what frosty re­la­tion­ship with the teacher’s union.

Gary Peluchetti, pres­i­dent of the Bridge­port Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, pointed out on Fri­day that the lo­cal has of­fered much of the cul­tural aware­ness and un­con­scious bias train­ing that the pa­per rec­om­mends. The BEA has an eth­nic mi­nor­ity chair, Mia Dimbo, who also serves in that ca­pac­ity on the Con­necti­cut Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tions Board of Di­rec­tors.

“Our as­so­ci­a­tion ... has long been an or­ga­ni­za­tion of civil rights ac­tivism for mi­nor­ity teach­ers and stu­dents, as well as LGBTQ teach­ers and stu­dents,” Peluchette said. “We are war­riors for so­cial jus­tice.”

Kather­ine Bucheli, one of the re­port au­thors, said the goal was to spark con­ver­sa­tion.

“To cre­ate a space to talk more about the im­pact of cul­tural di­ver­sity,” said Bucheli, who taught last year in Bridge­port and this year in Stam­ford. “It is re­ally im­por­tant to talk about.”

Why it mat­ters

Re­search shows that all stu­dents ben­e­fit from hav­ing teach­ers of color in the class­room, said Ebony Walm­sely, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of ex­ter­nal af­fairs for Ed­u­ca­tors For Ex­cel­lence Con­necti­cut, which as­sem­bled the teach­ers to study the is­sue.

That is par­tic­u­larly true of mi­nor­ity males.

Re­searcher Seth Ger­shen­son of Amer­i­can Univer­sity, in a 2017 study, found black stu­dents with teach­ers of the same race per­formed bet­ter on stan­dard­ized tests and were viewed more fa­vor­ably by their teach­ers. More go on to at­tend col­lege. Fewer end up drop­ping out.

It is not en­tirely clear why.

As the num­ber of mi­nor­ity stu­dent pop­u­la­tion in the state grows, how­ever, the per­cent­age of teach­ers of color re­mains some­what stag­nant.

In Bridge­port, nearly nine out of ten stu­dents iden­tify as mi­nori­ties. The lat­est state fig­ures, from 2017- 18, put the num­ber of mi­nor­ity ed­u­ca­tors in the dis­trict at 26 per­cent. The gaps are com­pa­ra­ble in Hartford and New Haven.

In the last school year, out of nearly 1,700 cer­ti­fied staff in Bridge­port, 10.8 were His­panic, 12.7 per­cent were black, 2.6 per­cent were Asian or Na­tive Amer­i­can and 74 per­cent were white.

Statewide, 9 per­cent of teach­ers are of color while 46 per­cent of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion iden­ti­fies with one or more race or eth­nic mi­nor­ity.

Walm­sely called it a se­ri­ous di­ver­sity gap.

The group’s pol­icy team spent months as­sem­bling data. They said they sur­veyed 60 teach­ers statewide and met with stake­hold­ers.

What they say they found was a vi­cious cy­cle of too few teach­ers of color to serve as pos­i­tive role mod­els lead­ing to few stu­dents of color who see teach­ing as a vi­able ca­reer path.

What they want

To break the cy­cle, the group rec­om­mends that teach­ers, re­gard­less of their back­ground, get con­sis­tent and on­go­ing train­ing in a cul­tur­ally re­spon­sive cur­ricu­lum. They’d like to see it writ­ten into the teacher con­tract.

They’d also like to see the dis­trict hire a coach who could train teach­ers in mul­ti­cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion. A tall or­der in a dis­trict that, be­cause of bud­get cuts, let all its math and read­ing coaches go this year.

Brown said some schools in the dis­trict still em­ploy coaches to train teach­ers in pos­i­tive be­hav­iors and so­cial and emo­tional learn­ing.

“A di­ver­sity coach could help stu­dents in the long run be more com­fort­able with ed­u­ca­tion,” he said.

Teach­ers, said Bald­winMuham­mad, not only need to know how to teach a mul­ti­cul­tural cur­ricu­lum but be mind­ful of how they see and treat stu­dents of color. Of­ten, she said, teach­ers per­ceive stu­dents by the way they look and dress. It hap­pened to her own sons and with a step- daugh­ter who is Mus­lim, she said.

Rob Vo­gelpohl, a sec­ondyear Span­ish teacher at Cen­tral High School, agreed. He came to the dis­trict through the Teach for Amer­ica pro­gram from Ten­nessee know­ing noth­ing of Bridge­port.

“The first thing I no­tice was that most of my peers were white, most of my stu­dents were not,” said Vo­gelpohl, who is white.

Vo­gelpohl said he tries not to over­com­pen­sate.

“I try to meet ev­ery­one half way,” he said. “To make the ma­te­rial as en­gag­ing as pos­si­ble and tai­lor lessons to ( my stu­dents) specif­i­cally.”

Bucheli, who came to the United States from Ecuador, said she was also sur­prised to find so few teach­ers of color when she taught at Hard­ing High School. Now at Stam­ford High, she said it is not much dif­fer­ent.

Bald­win- Muham­mad said the state could at­tract more teach­ers of color if the Con­necti­cut state cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process weren’t so ex­cru­ci­at­ingly hard.

“To the point that I al­most said for­get it,” she said. Bald­win- Muham­mad grew up in Strat­ford but got her de­gree in Florida. She passed the state’s Praxis Test on the first try but then had to take ad­di­tional cour­ses she does not think make her a bet­ter teacher.

The group is aware of ef­forts be­ing made, un­der Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Aresta John­son, to hire more teach­ers of color.

They say they are pleased the dis­trict now re­quires stu­dents to take a course in African Amer­i­can Stud­ies, Latin Amer­i­can Stud­ies or Per­spec­tives on Race to grad­u­ate.

They look for­ward to a Sa­cred Heart Univer­sity pro­posal to cre­ate a pri­vately funded “Grow Your Own” pro­gram in the dis­trict.

And Sana Shah, out­reach di­rec­tor for E4E, is work­ing with the school board’s Males of Color Ad Hoc com­mit­tee.

“There is an in­ter­sect to our work,” she said.


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