HARTFORD, Conn. — Seeing diversity in the books is one thing, but as current and aspiring educators explained, it's just as important to see it in front of the classroom.
For Kiana Beamon, her first experience with a teacher of color was in eighth grade.
"It was so amazing seeing him because I realized I could relate to him; I feel comfortable, and I feel like I can talk to him about my problems and my issues," said Beamon.
On the other hand, Cymone Douglas said she had a unique experience. Growing up in Hartford, Douglas had brown and black teachers throughout grade school, but as she got older, she recounted the representation got less and less.
"I appreciate being able to connect with those teachers," said Douglas, adding that her Caribbean heritage adds another layer for students to engage with. "And I know it just lights their faces to know that someone else understands their experiences."
Marlene Megos, the Connecticut Teacher Program (TRP) director, said approximately 50% of students in Connecticut identify as students of color. However, the teachers in the state do not reflect that same diversity, with only a tiny percentage identifying as teachers of color.
"In Connecticut, it's 10%, and nationally, it's about 20%," Megos explained.
When it comes to educating kids, Megos said it's vital they're in classrooms with diverse perspectives and people who can share their own experiences and teach to the curriculum.
Megos explained TRP helps this become a reality in schools. It also helps shift the statistic to help bring in more diversity.
"The goal of our program is to not only recruit teachers of color but retain them," explained Ushawnda Mitchell, TRP managing director.
Mitchell said that the program is an alternate route to elementary certification and focuses on diversifying teachers across the state. It's a residency model that ensures candidates get at least one year inside the classroom for hands-on experience with a mentor teacher.
"Our program is incredibly rigorous," said Megos.
The program is 18 months and includes all the coursework you would traditionally get in a certification program, in addition to people already having their bachelor's degree before entering the program.
"The hands-on experience combined with the courses makes this an intensive training program," stressed Megos. "So not only are our teachers diverse, but our teachers are well trained."
The TRP started in 2019 with just 11 people in CREC residency, who are now in their second year of teaching.
"Since then, we have partnered with the RESC Alliance," explained Mitchell. "So our program is now statewide, and we have more than 40 residents across the state of Connecticut at our four sites."
Douglas was one of the graduates in the program's first-ever cohort.
"TRP helped me become more comfortable with taking on this new endeavor, a new career with working with students full time in a classroom," explained Douglas.
She is now a fourth-grade teacher at CREC Museum Academy in Bloomfield.
"Every student that walks in my classroom, I have an opportunity to connect with, and I'm hoping that they're able to see the love and the light and be able to know that they can pursue whatever it is they're passionate about," passionately explained Douglas.
Beamon is a current TRP resident and said she wants to make a similar impact with her first-grade students.
"You can see the representation in the classroom at a younger age, and that gets more students involved in school," said Beamon.
Beamon echoed Mitchell and said that programs like TRP are vital in attracting and retaining diversity in the teacher workforce.
"A lot of times in Connecticut and all across the world, you don't see black and brown educators, and when you do see them, it's usually in the higher grades," said Beamon.
While this program has made significant strides in diversifying the teacher workforce, Megos said they are looking forward to having a sustainable funding model within the next couple of years, including public funding.
"We are looking for our legislators to support this fully," said Megos. "We're looking for support to have a line item in the budget to support teacher residencies across Connecticut. Because what we know is having that hands-on experience along with the classroom theory is incredibly important for addressing our teacher needs and bringing diverse teachers into our classroom."
Click here for morning information about the Connecticut Teacher Residency Program.
Raquel Harrington is the race and culture reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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