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GRPS works to create direct teacher pipeline

First-year program includes seven district schools

Grand Rapids—In a lab at Davenport University, two scientists prepared to analyze a water sample from “Heroesville,” where residents have been complaining of abdominal, muscle and joint pain as well as fever and headaches. Lead poisoning is suspected, but scientific analysis of the water will yield concrete clues.

The scientists in this case were Innovation Central seniors David Martinez-Amaro and Cailyn Battles. 

They were two of approximately 80 GRPS students at Davenport as part of a district program called Future Proud Michigan Educator GR Teach Club (or Teach Club for short) that aims to provide a pathway for GRPS students to someday become GRPS teachers. 

The program includes clubs at Burton, Harrison Park and Riverside middle schools, CA Frost Environmental Science Academy Middle High School, Grand Rapids Montessori High School and Grand Rapids Public Museum High School.

For David, the exposure to colleges and the behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be a teacher has been eye-opening and inspiring.

“Seeing the fun and also the impact one can make in someone else’s life is definitely helping me plan for a career in teaching,” he said. “I have really enjoyed going on these trips and activities that we have done in the (Teach Club) program.”

He also enjoyed seeing the Davenport facilities as part of a campus tour.

From left, David Martinez-Amaro, Cailyn Battles and teacher Lisa Orban-Cowley from Innovation Central High School

Opportunity to Bring More Diversity

Cailyn is in her fourth year exploring what a career in education might someday look like. And she too was excited to be in the lab, doing a hands-on activity that was also giving her a chance to consider how people learn.

“I like this experiment,” she said. “And I like that (Teach Club) gives me helpful information about teaching.”

While David and Cailyn worked in one lab, across the hallway and two doors down at Davenport, Esther Mesta and Kimberly Florez were part of a similar science scenario. The pair of seventh-graders at Harrison Park also are thinking about what a career in education might look like.

Still, Kimberly said, she was loving the Davenport visit, and, yes, she could see herself wanting to be a teacher someday.

Cailyn was in a similar spot five years ago, and has been working toward a career in education since becoming part of a precursor to Teach Club (then called the Academy of Teaching and Learning) as a ninth-grader. Now she is on the cusp of college and still on track for her career goals.

Innovation Central teacher Lisa Orban-Cowley, a 19-year veteran of the district, was alongside Cailyn and David for the day at Davenport and is excited about seeing current students as potential future colleagues.

“It’s great that it’s an opportunity to bring more diversity into the profession of teaching,” she said. “And I like that it provides insights to the students about the training, the experience and the work that goes into teaching each day.”

Teach Club Funded by Michigan Department of Education

Teach Club is in its first year and funded by a grant from the Michigan Department of Education’s Future Proud Michigan Educator program, an effort to grow and diversify the educator workforce and address the significant teacher shortage currently facing Michigan.

GRPS was one of 44 recipients across the state announced a year ago as part of the new program, with each grantee getting $10,000 in funding per eligible school building.

Davenport scholarship funds STEM teachers

GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby and Davenport President Richard Pappas (front row L-R) sign an agreement for a scholarship for GRPS students in Davenport’s urban STEM education program

GRPS is the first school system in Michigan to partner with Davenport on a new STEM Educator Scholarship program to build the teacher pipeline.

On May 2, at Innovation Central High School, Davenport and GRPS inked an agreement for the program which is offered statewide. 

The new partnership is intended to address Michigan’s teacher talent shortage which Davenport President Richard Pappas described as “a major crisis for Michigan.” He noted that each partner school district will be eligible for 75 scholarships, including up to 25 for current students, up to 25 for school employees and up to 25 for parents of students currently enrolled in the school district. 

The formal arrangement creates 75 new scholarships of $12,00 per year for current GRPS students, staff and parents for Davenport’s urban STEM education degree program. Each scholarship will be renewable for up to four years and can be used for tuition, fees, books, meal plans and housing.

“Davenport University has been an instrumental partner in helping us enhance the learning of our current staff to address the unique needs of our students for the last decade,” said GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby in a prepared statement. “Their approach to weekly mentorship has been revolutionary and we are thrilled now to extend this scholarship opportunity to our students, staff and community to address the real teacher talent crisis our community is facing.”Davenport is hoping to partner with 10 school districts across the state with the program available on a first-come, first-served basis. To learn more, visit davenport.edu/school-partnership or email urbaneducation@davenport.edu.

Tina Watson, director of professional learning for GRPS, said that this year Teach Club was able to offer four events, of which the Davenport outing was the last of the year. 

Those included a virtual conference on being a teacher and a change agent, a team-building event that launched the clubs at the participating schools and fall and spring college tours at Grand Valley and then Davenport.

‘Seeing the fun and also the impact one can make in someone else’s life is definitely helping me plan for a career in teaching. I have really enjoyed going on these trips and activities that we have done in the (Teach Club) program.’

– senior David Martinez-Amaro

She and Adriana Almanza, the new GRPS Talent Development, Retention & Diversity recruitment manager, are already seeing the energy and excitement that Teach Club brings to the districts, and hope to broaden the reach of GRPS’s diversity and inclusion efforts when it comes to getting grads back in the classrooms as teacher. 

Talent Development, Retention & Diversity

For Almanza, getting district students to consider careers as GRPS teachers is a critical part of her work for the district, and events like the one at Davenport play an important role.

Adriana Almanza, GRPS Talent Development, Retention & Diversity recruitment manager

“Giving our youth the opportunity to visit institutions of higher education exposes them to the abundance of opportunities that exist for them post-graduation,” she said. “Our goal with these visits is to introduce them to colleges and universities and also give them a hands-on experience where they can dive deeper into understanding the educator profession.” 

A former West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Young Professional of the Year, Almanza earned both a master’s in education and bachelor’s in international relations from Grand Valley State University. She worked there for almost a decade, including in diversity and inclusion and as an adjunct instructor.

She began her work at GRPS a year ago, in May 2021, and was quickly thrown into some challenging situations, including 200-plus teacher and staff vacancies for the 2021-22 school year, vacancies that down the road she hopes will be easier to fill because of the Teach Club pipeline.

Patience, she said, will definitely be a virtue.

“Attracting diverse and qualified candidates is an ongoing process,” she said. “It doesn’t happen in one day or one month. I’ve been tasked with talent development, retention and diversity recruitment. It’s important that the students who are in the classroom are represented in administration and in teachers and in support staff across the district.”

Harrison Park teacher Jim Welsh, left, with students Esther Mesta and Kimberly Florez

More to Come

That includes not just Teach Club but also a new program launching this fall that will send grads to GRCC, where tuition is free thanks to the Promise Zone scholarship program, and then from GRCC to Michigan State, including student teaching assignments in GRPS that would be supplemented by a stipend from the district.

“Student teaching is not paid,” Almanza said. “So that impacts students from lower socio-economic status, including students of color. The ability to work for free is not something all students have the opportunity and privilege to take part in, and so we’re hoping that that stipend would help remove another barrier to a career in education.”

And though this work is what Almanza does professionally, she said there is a strong personal component, too (she once wrote an open letter to then-Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump about her father that went viral).

“My father came to the United States undocumented at the age of 23,” she said. “And I remember from a very young age I heard from him about the importance of education because he did not have a formal education.”

She also had great teachers, coaches and mentors in her K-12 experience in Greenville Public Schools, she said.

“Although they didn’t look like me, and they didn’t have my background and experiences, they poured into me in ways that I’m really grateful for now,” she said. 

David Martinez-Amaro and Cailyn Battles conduct their experiment
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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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