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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Celebrating Black educators because representation matters

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Teaching is both an art and a science. It is not just what we teach but how we teach it.

Few would disagree with this notion; however, one organization believes “who” teaches is just as important.

The “r” word that has come up in every industry is not what you may think — representation. A Johns Hopkins University study found that “Black students who had just one Black teacher by third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college — and those who had two were 32% more likely than their peers that have not had any Black teachers.

As the people of Indiana celebrate Black History Month, difficult conversations regarding Critical Race Theory, Senate Bill 386, and COVID-19 learning loss have reached new heights. While lawmakers and leaders negotiate and debate away for years about the future of our kids, one organization has unwaveringly introduced innovative solutions nonstop for the past eight years. Why? Because representation matters.

Blake Nathan, CEO and Founder of Educate ME Foundation, is a solutions-oriented leader who understands children need change now. “Nearly 95% of Indiana school superintendents who responded to a 2022 survey said they are contending with a shortage of qualified candidates for teacher openings,” reports the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute.

Unapologetically, Educate ME has worked to; one, increase the number of men and women of color teaching in Indianapolis classrooms and two, remove barriers to certification for aspiring teachers. As easy as this may sound, thinking outside the box was a key ingredient of the Black Teacher Fund. The goal of the Black Teacher Fund is to reduce the financial barriers associated with establishing a career as a licensed teacher in high-need geographic areas.

The broader Indianapolis community has struggled with teacher shortages for many years, along with a disproportionately low number of Black classroom teachers. The Educate ME initiative covers the cost of test preparation and certification fees to ease access for aspiring Black educators’ entering the profession. Educate ME offers existing teachers up to $450 in supplies or a shopping trip at the Teacher Pop-Up Store hosted in Central Indianapolis. These benefits have provided teachers’ relief while doing the challenging work at underfunded schools. Recruitment and retention programs that provide immediate impact on the Black educator workforce and, more importantly, offer positive outcomes for all students are needed. More well-trained, certified teachers are a win for the entire state. Moreover, a diverse teacher landscape benefits all students — not just Black students — although data shows the impact on Black children is transformational. Why?

Because representation matters.

National and local philanthropic foundations such as the Indianapolis African American Quality of Life Initiative, the Glick Fund and Indianapolis African American Legacy Fund have supported Educate ME as the organization creatively innovates how they attract and help Black educators. One of their most ambitious projects to date is the Black Teacher Residency in partnership with Klipsch Educators College at Marian University. Through this program, aspiring K-12 educators will be awarded a full scholarship for their Master of Arts in Teaching graduate degree and a full-time position at an Indianapolis public or charter school. The residents will be prepared for a long-term career as an educator through a gradual release model that includes mentorship by a highly effective teacher, culturally relevant professional development, and priceless on-the-job training. Educate ME has celebrated Black educators all year and will continue to do so by investing time, funding and human capital to remedy and resolve the teacher shortage.

Why? Because representation matters.

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