SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – In response to the shortage of qualified multicultural and multi-ethnic teachers nationally, statewide and in Springfield, Wittenberg University has partnered with the Springfield City Schools, Springfield Association of Black Educators and Upward Bound to help reverse the sobering situation.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education, the Springfield Early Teacher Uplift Program (SETUP) aims to expose minority high school students to the field of education through a diverse range of activities and resources, including scholarships to attend the nationally ranked Wittenberg University.
“If you were to go into the Springfield City Schools, you would not find a single minority math teacher,” said Mary Watkins, SETUP coordinator at Wittenberg and a teacher with the Dayton City Schools for 34 years before her retirement in 1998. “In fact, there are only 84 minority teachers out of 659 in the Springfield City schools overall, but the minority student population stands at roughly 3,150. ”
This fact required Watkins to go outside Springfield to find four minority math teachers to serve on a special panel titled “Straight Talk From Math Teachers,” scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 16, in 105 Shouvlin Center on campus. They include Sylvia Moyler, Linda Snellings and Joyce Stone, retired teachers in the Dayton City Schools, and Saba Kassaye, who currently teaches at Xenia High School.
Watkins hopes that this math-focused panel and future SETUP-sponsored events will help facilitate solutions to increase the number of minority teachers, especially those in math and science, nationally and close to home.
“If we have a population that is becoming more diverse, yet our classrooms reflect the opposite, it comes as no surprise that minority students are finding fewer role models in the teaching ranks, who look like them, which in turn leads them away from the field of education,” Watkins explained.
A report to the Ohio Department of Education regarding the condition of teacher supply and demand in the state supports Watkins’ concerns. The report, issued in 2003, indicates that from 1997-2002 the percentage of black teachers increased from 6.3 percent to only 6.7 percent while the percentage of black students increased from 15.4 to 16.8 percent.
At the same time, Watkins wants to help decrease the discrepancies in math achievement scores for minority students.
“Just when the expectations for what all students should know in math are rising, profound discrepancies of 10-20 percent between the math achievement of majority students and the largest minority groups in every Ohio urban school system have been documented,” Watkins explained. “We want to change that with SETUP.”
In addition to offering scholarships for study at Wittenberg, SETUP provides participants with career counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and financial aid and application assistance. It also sponsors youth-driven discussions, campus visits to Wittenberg and activities to engage parents in the process.”
“The expectation is that those minority students whom SETUP helped to identify in high school will use their Wittenberg degrees, which they earned through the university’s nationally accredited education program, to teach in the Springfield City Schools,” Watkins said.
Thanks to SETUP, three former Springfield high school students are now in their second year at Wittenberg, and all plan to return to their local classrooms upon graduation. Tandra Gray, class of 2008, is one of the area’s future teachers.
Gray, who graduated from South High School in Springfield and learned about SETUP from her adviser, knew she wanted to be a teacher while in kindergarten at Grayhill Elementary School.
“My teacher, Mrs. Copeland, made me enjoy learning, and I knew I wanted to be an inspiration just like her,” Gray said. She plans to follow in her mentor’s footsteps by teaching children at a Springfield elementary school after graduation.
“I just want to make a difference in the lives of children.”
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