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State grants to help students explore education careers

Kent ISD—Area students interested in education as a career will get a chance to explore their options thanks to a recent Michigan Department of Education grant to 44 honorees across the state, including four in West Michigan.

Kelloggsville Public Schools, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Thornapple Kellogg Schools and Kent ISD all were awarded grants ranging from $10,000 to $70,000 as part of the Future Proud Michigan Explore Program.

That program is part of a larger campaign created to both expand and diversify the steadily shrinking pool of state educators.

“Teachers help to build a better world, and we need to collectively invest in our future proud Michigan educators,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice in a press release announcing the awards. “We need to encourage our young people to consider developing and using their talents as Michigan educators.”

Laura Robinson, assistant principal at Kent Career Tech Center, agrees.

She said the current decline in enrollment in teacher preparation programs throughout the state is also evident at West Michigan colleges and universities. She pointed to a 22.9% drop over the last 10 years in undergraduate enrollment in the education program at Grand Valley State University, what she called “a main talent pipeline for Kent County districts,” as an example.

The shortage, she noted, comes at a time when districts not only need more educators in general to replace an aging workforce, but also more diverse educators.

Laura Robinson, assistant principal of the Kent Career Tech Center, says Kent County needs more teachers of color to support its classrooms and needs to ‘grow our own in response to the national shortage’

‘More Teachers of Color’

Indeed, the growing diversity of the student population in Kent County – now almost one-third Hispanic/Latino and African American students – is not reflected in Kent County’s teacher workforce, which Robinson said is less diverse than the overall state teaching workforce with 94.5% of teachers in Kent County identifying as white compared to 90.8% of teachers statewide. 

The gap, she added, is especially significant when comparing Hispanic/Latino students to teachers. While 18.8% of students are Hispanic/Latino, the teaching workforce consists of only 1.7% of Hispanic/Latino teachers.

“We need more teachers of color to support our classrooms,” said Robinson. “And we need to grow our own in response to the national shortage.”

That’s the idea at Kelloggsville, where a partnership with Davenport University will launch a new course at the district’s high school that focuses on urban education.

“Kelloggsville would like its teaching staff to reflect more of the student population,” said Beth Travis, a former middle school principal who now serves the district as director of online schools and grant writer. “Creating an introduction to a career in education will allow our students at Kelloggsville Public Schools to potentially enter a career path that will eventually return them to us one day as an educator.”

The district had already created a new “Grow Our Own” program available to all students interested in pursuing careers in education. The state grant will allow for an expansion of that program, including a new course at the high school that will connect with Davenport’s FUSE program (Future Urban STEM Educator preparation).

Beth Travis of Kelloggsville Public Schools, which has created a program to create pathways for future teachers

Kelloggsville, Davenport University Partner

The goal of the course is to introduce Kelloggsville students to options in higher education and to the teaching profession. Davenport professors will train Kelloggsville teachers on the FUSE curriculum, and the course will be offered starting in the fall.

Kelloggsville High students who take the course will work with their teachers to develop lessons that they then will teach to the district’s middle school students, giving them a taste of teaching.

Davenport will continue to support Kelloggsville, providing three additional years of FUSE curriculum support and training for staff involved in the program. 

In its grant application, Kelloggsville noted that while it does attract graduates to return and teach – currently 6% of its teaching staff – the staff overall tends to follow national statistics: 93% of Kelloggsville teachers identify as white, four percent as Hispanic and two percent as African American/Black. 

By contrast, current district demographics include 86% economically disadvantaged students, 42% Hispanic, 31% African American/Black and 20% white.

Nick Orlowski of Grand Rapids Public Schools, which will create programs to inspire future teachers in seven schools

GRPS: An Equity Issue

Like Kelloggsville, Grand Rapids Public Schools is a diverse district that wants to get its grads back in the classroom as teachers.

Currently, 11% of GRPS’ staff are members of an underrepresented minority group, and the district wants to see that number go up so the diversity of its teachers more closely reflects its student demographics. 

In its grant application, GRPS said “it sees the need to attract teachers of color as an equity issue.”

The district was awarded $70,000 by the state because it had seven schools – Harrison Park Academy, Burton and Riverside middle schools, and CA Frost, Grand Rapids Montessori, Grand Rapids Public Museum and Innovation Central high schools – commit to a new program that will launch Young Educators Society clubs in each  building.

The grant will help cover a teacher stipend, learning materials for students and travel expenses for students to colleges and universities as well as YES-affiliated conferences. GRPS also will partner with GVSU, and faculty there will serve as mentors to students and work with YES teacher leaders to develop opportunities for students to understand the process of becoming a teacher.

The goal, said Nick Orlowski, director of professional learning and early warning systems for the district, is to engage and inspire young people, especially those from underrepresented groups, into teaching. He added that establishing YES Clubs will allow the district to help guide students to post-secondary opportunities, and from there the goal would be to see those students eventually return to GRPS as teaching interns and then, hopefully, as professionals.

TK, Kent ISD Creating Pipelines

At Thornapple Kellogg Schools, administrators are looking at growth trends that could bring 100 or more students a year over the next five years to TK schools, based on housing starts and other demographic data.

In its grant application, the need was stated as: “People are wanting to come to our community, and we need to be ready with teachers.”

The district plans to build on an existing teacher cadet program at the high school that allows students to learn from and shadow a teacher. That program will be the inspiration for a new exploratory course at the district’s middle school. TK also will work with local universities and colleges to develop a coordinated enrollment plan for its Future Proud Michigan Educators to transition to college.

Kim Chausow, TK’s director of curriculum and community enrichment, said the district will offer nine-week exploratory classes to students in grades 6-8 to allow them to learn more about the profession of teaching and to create a pipeline to the teacher cadet program. 

She noted that all of TK’s schools are within three-quarters of a mile of one another, providing the opportunity for students in the new course to learn with teachers at all grade levels.

Finally, Kent ISD plans to use its $10,000 grant to create its first-ever Career Technical Education program at the Kent Career Tech Center, scheduled to begin in the fall. 

The program will give Tech Center students (high school juniors and seniors) a chance to learn what goes into preparing and delivering lessons in the classroom, and will award them credit from a number of local colleges and universities.

The goal, Robinson said, is to develop and support teachers from underrepresented populations and to provide experiential learning, “where you are experiencing education versus learning from a book,” she said.

“We will put high-school students working alongside Kent County’s highly effective master teachers, learning best practices and researched-based strategies while still in classes themselves.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio


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