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UMass Amherst partnering to support future teachers in Holyoke Public Schools

In close cooperation with Kelly Curran, of Holyoke Public Schools, and Joan Giovannini, at Holyoke Community College, Beverley Bell and Betsy McEneaney, of the College of Education, have been awarded a state Teacher Diversification Pilot Program grant and UMass Public Service Endowment Grant (PSEG) for partnering to develop a Grow Your Own (GYO) Program. 

The partnership illustrates the College of Education’s commitment to local school district partners and is strategically responding to superintendent Steven Zrike’s request for support in cultivating and diversifying its teacher base by creating a dual-enrollment pathway to teaching for current students.

In the inaugural year, spearheaded by partnership liaison Chalais Carter, the GYO Program aims to share more about the teaching profession and support the district’s efforts to encourage students to return to teach in Holyoke Public Schools (HPS). Through this partnership, UMass and HPS are designing the GYO pathway to support students to begin progress on their educator licensure.

Students at Holyoke High School’s (HHS) North and Dean campuses will be able to enroll in and complete education courses at UMass, which can be applied to education programs at UMass and other state universities and colleges.

The Teacher Diversification grant supported opportunities for Holyoke High School’s students to enroll in education courses through a dual enrollment option in Spring 2020 and will continue to support enrollment through Fall 2020.

Citing the benefits of this partnership and future goals, Betsy McEneaneymade the case that these grants are helping“to strengthen institutional connections, improving communication and advising across HPS, HCC and UMass College of Education.” She also emphasized that while this will support smoother relations among a variety of partners, there is more room to grow this partnership to meet the needs of future K-12 students and educators, “This reduces hurdles to enrolling in and completing educator preparation programs, but there is still much work to be done to ensure that UMass programs are preparing educators who understand the importance of and can implement culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogies.”

Toward preparing educators to practice culturally sustaining pedagogies, the partnership is also supporting the establishment of a Future Teachers Club at Holyoke High School for students to learn more about teaching profession and critical approaches to teaching through events, panels and discussions. The Future Teachers Club will be co-led by Dana Altshuler at HHS North campus and Jazebel Bermudez at HHS Dean campus and is supported by Molly Maturo at Peck Middle School.

The Future Teacher’s Club held its first event on Monday June 1, a virtual panel entitled, “Exploring Education: A discussion for HPS Students.” For this event, HPS students were invited to learn more about opportunities in education via a panel of representatives from HPS and UMass; Selena Garcia Rodriguez and Zaiell Vargas, from Holyoke High’s Ethnic Studies Youth Council; Keisha Green and Jamila Lyiscott, from the UMass College of Education; as well as Steven Zrike, the outgoing Superintendent of Holyoke Public Schools. 

The event was held on heels of growing country-wide protests in response to the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. All panelists commented on how these recent events are shaping efforts in teacher education and education more broadly. Specifically, in response to a question about how the global and national events of recent months and weeks are impacting education, Keisha Green discussed the importance of this moment for her and her colleagues' work in cultivating culturally sustaining pedagogical practices with preservice teachers, “…the moment is now and the moment is not new. So, it feels like a rehashing of old remnants, of issues and weighty topics that we continually grapple with.”

She continues by addressing the need and urgency for both skill development and identity development in teacher education programs and she echoes a prominent question for researchers and practitioners, “‘How do we have these kinds of conversations in classrooms?’ It’s necessary that we do, and yet we still grapple with the ways we might engage in these kinds of conversations and work that will incorporate both the skill development…right alongside identity development and criticality...It’s so urgent.”

Additionally, speaking to the urgency of incorporating both approaches to teacher development for student learning, she continues, “We’re teaching to save lives. I want folks, young people in particular, to be able to question, act and engage in the public sphere in really critical ways.”

The panelists also discussed several topics with student and community attendees including the process of becoming an educator, culturally sustaining teaching practices, and the importance of celebrating and elevating the teaching profession through the GYO partnership and HPS initiatives for future teachers. Over the course of the 2020-21 academic year, the Future Teachers Club plans to host student meetings, university and college campus visits, and joint events at North and Dean campuses.