When the state of Connecticut passed two bills in June to boost efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color, CCSU was a few years ahead of that curve.
Through its partnership with the Capitol Region Education Council, the University refers ethnically diverse teacher candidates to CREC’s minority teacher recruitment program, which offers mentoring and professional development, job search assistance, and field experience for student teachers.
CCSU’s current “Grow Your Own Teacher” initiative takes a more proactive approach by partnering with Connecticut high schools to provide ethnically diverse students who are interested in teaching careers with the opportunity to begin their teaching educations through dual-enrollment coursework created by the CCSU School of Education and Professional Studies (SEPS).
“The State Department of Education has put forth as a priority goal to increase teachers of diversity,” says Dr. Kim Kostelis, dean of SEPS. “The demographics of Connecticut’s schoolchildren are changing, yet the teaching workforce is not changing at the same pace.”
According to a 2018 report by Educators for Excellence of Connecticut, students of color account for more than 40 percent of all students, but only eight percent of teachers and about two percent of administrators are people of color. The trend is not unique to Connecticut.
“The overwhelming goal in the state is to move towards having the teaching force more reflective of students of all different backgrounds as well as create more gender balance in the schools by recruiting more male teachers,” says Lauren Tafrate, coordinator of the Office of School - Community Partnerships within SEPS.
The priority for Kostelis and Tafrate is to have pipelines of CCSU minority teacher graduates who would return to their districts as elementary and secondary school teachers. While addressing teacher shortages, the plan also establishes a way for students to give back and serve in their communities.
Project Blue Devil Direct
CCSU’s first initiative to recruit teachers of color at the high school level began several years ago with West Harford’s Conard High School. Named Project Blue Devil Direct, it grew out of the Future Educators of Diversity club
facilitated by Assistant Principal Jamahl Hines.
“As West Hartford’s program expanded,” Kostelis explains. “They wanted to have partnerships with higher education institutions to streamline students’ pathway to teaching.”
West Hartford’s Hall High School is a more recent Project Blue Devil Direct partner. Each school currently has about 20 students, in grades 9 through 12, in the program.
Incentives for Blue Devil Direct students to apply to the School of Education and Professional Studies include early application/admissions decisions and access to CCSU advisors in academics, financial aid, and the Bursar’s office.
“We have dedicated staff at the district level and at CCSU so students can build relationships,” Tafrate says. “If you’re new to college, those logistics can be daunting.”
Kostelis says another benefit of the partnership is that once a student has graduated from high school, attends CCSU, and is certified as a teacher, the West Hartford superintendent of schools guarantees an employment-related interview.
Roszena L. Haskins, Ed.D, director for Continuing Education & Diversity Advancement for the West Hartford Public Schools, is enthusiastic about the CCSU partnership.
“For students of color,” she says, “it’s really important for them to see their history, culture, experiences, and narrative front and center of teaching and learning. And, she stresses, “It benefits all students to have teachers of different backgrounds — racially, technically, and linguistically — that will prepare them for a competitive, global future.” Haskins says some students hadn’t imagined themselves on a college campus or even visited one prior to this partnership.
“They thought college was out of reach for financial reasons, and as first-generation college students, they don’t have the navigation know-how,” she says. “Our students have gained inspiration and hope because of access to scholarship funding and other financial incentives. We’re confident our partnership with CCSU is a really good pathway for our students to become highly qualified, culturally competent educators.”
This fall, the first cohort of Project Blue Devil Direct participants — three students from Conard and Hall High Schools’ Classes of 2019 — enrolled at CCSU in the School of Education and Professional Studies.
A growing pipeline
Expanding on their longstanding relationship with CCSU, this summer the Consolidated School District of New Britain was the second to officially create a formal “Grow Your Own Teacher” pipeline, calling their program Bee the Blue Devil Change: Pathway to Teaching Between New Britain and CCSU.
“We customize the programs to meet the district’s needs, as well as our own needs,” Tafrate says. “It becomes a win-win if you do that. Each district has a different composition of students, and their teachers need to be invested in it for it to be successful.”
As more school districts become partners, Kostelis says, “We’re making sure we have support in place on campus for these students. We’re going to provide mentoring, networking, collaboration, and other opportunities to support their academic success while they’re at CCSU.”