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Countywide fund provides scholarships and training to aspiring educators of color

Overcoming factors resulting in only about 11% of Oregon's licensed educators being of color is the key objective of a Clackamas County program connecting aspiring teachers from diverse backgrounds to financial and training resources.

Launched in 2020, the Clackamas Diverse Educator Pathways program has provided nearly 70 non-licensed school staffers and community members with scholarships ranging from $1,100 to $4,000 in tuition scholarships per term to enroll in education training at Clackamas Community College, Portland State University and other teacher-training programs.

"What this program is trying to do is provide equity for historically underrepresented folks," said Desi Nicodemus, a teacher pathway navigator for the Clackamas Education Service District who helps program applicants access pipeline services that meet their specific needs.Desi Nicodemus

The program additionally supports diverse educators-in-training throughout the process of earning their teaching credentials, providing career and academic advising as well as individualized support and relationship-building among peer groups.

According to a statewide report from the Educator Advancement Council, teachers of color employed during the 2019-20 school year comprised just 10.8% of educators statewide, the highest mark in Oregon history. In the 23 years since the 1997-98 school year, the number of employed educators of color in Oregon has increased 7 percentage points from 3.9%, per the report.

Increasing ranks of ethnically diverse teachers haven't kept up with the diversity among Oregon's student populations. Between 1997 and 2020, the proportion of ethnically diverse students has risen from 16.2% to 38.5%.

To be eligible for the Clackamas Diverse Educator Pathways program, applicants must be ethnically or culturally diverse, bilingual or a first-generation college student; and currently be a non-licensed employee for a county school district or have received a referral from local institutions and organizations which partner with the program.

Non-licensed school employees, or "classified employees," can include instructional assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria and maintenance workers, Nicodemus said, adding that he hopes to expand the program in coming years to support diverse high school students pursuing careers as educators.

"The purpose of this is to get is to give folks an opportunity that historically they've never had, or their parents or their grandparents never had," said Nicodemus, a former elementary school teacher in North Clackamas who said he was supported by a similar program and saw firsthand the ongoing need for diverse perspectives within local academic institutions.

He said that for young students of color, having educators who share similar life experiences and look like them can go a long way toward broadening their perception of the realm of possibilities for their future careers.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Black students were 13% more likely to graduate from high school if they had at least one Black teacher in kindergarten through third grade, and 19% more likely to enroll in college than their same-race counterparts who did not.

"There's a need for kids to see themselves in their teachers," Nicodemus said. "If they don't see themselves, how are we going to get more teachers of color? How would you aspire to be that if you can't see it?"

"It's not just beneficial for Black kids or Hispanic kids or Asian kids to see somebody that looks like them, but it's also extremely important for white kids to see other folks that don't look like them," he added, highlighting that students' perspectives widen upon interacting with people from a range of diverse backgrounds.

Nicodemus said that as the program grows, he wants to develop a network additional mentorship resources and interventions that support students of color who may be struggling academically due to lack of culturally specific guidance, ultimately increasing diverse student representation in higher education.

"We have to do better to get more to say, 'Doing K-12 was great, now I want to move on to higher ed,'" Nicodemus said, adding that part of that process will be "breaking down barriers in those systems so folks feel comfortable navigating the systems and getting the proper support that they need."

To learn more about the Clackamas Diverse Educator Pathways program, click here.

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