SCHENECTADY — Education officials Tuesday officially unveiled a new pathway program designed to make obtaining an education degree easier while hopefully addressing the racial disparities between teachers and students within the Schenectady school district.
The Grow Your Own program, unveiled earlier this month, is a partnership between Schenectady city schools, SUNY Schenectady, Cazenovia College and Clarkson University that will allow students to earn an education degree without having to leave the city.
The program provides financial support for participants through a series of grants, making an education degree more attainable for historically underserved communities, said Anibal Soler Jr., superintendent of Schenectady schools.
Soler said the program is in line with the district’s recently adopted diversity, equity and inclusion policy, which acknowledges certain groups of students have been precluded from receiving an education due to aspects of their identities and lays out a path to eliminate racial and other disparities within the education system.
“Programs like this are embedded and grounded in DEI work, so for our district, this is the work,” he said. “I’m excited that our kids, our students that are interested in becoming future teachers, will have this opportunity right here in Schenectady.”
The district has been working to address racial disparities, and while strides have been made, there is still work to be done.
Of the 9,327 students enrolled at Schenectady schools, 33% are Black or African American, the equivalent of 3,055. A total of 2,478, or 27% of students are white, 1,171 are Hispanic or Latino and 1,556 are Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, according to district demographics.
The district is comprised of 803 teachers, 727 (91%) of which are white. Just 32, or 4%, of educators in the district are Black. Nineteen are Asian, 16 are Hispanic, three are multiple ethnicities and six declined to disclose their race, according to district data.
Soler said the program will not only ensure students have a pathway toward an education degree but will allow students the opportunity to work within the district.
The pathway program is completed in four steps.
Students will begin taking associate-level courses while enrolled in high school and then transfer to SUNY Schenectady to finish their degree.
From there, students will transition to Cazenovia College, where they will begin working toward a bachelor’s degree and a certificate in childhood education and teaching students with disabilities.
Qualified students will then be offered automatic admission to the master of arts in teaching program at Clarkson University’s Capital Region campus, where they will complete their education residency at Schenectady schools, said Catherine Snyder, chair of the education department at Clarkson University.
Snyder said studies have proven that when students of color have just one teacher of color, they are more likely to graduate.
“That’s one of the focuses of this program, increasing the number of teachers of color at Schenectady City School District,” she said.
The program will also help address the growing need for teachers, a profession that has seen more retirees than professionals entering the workforce, said Snyder.
The New York State United Teachers union estimates that 180,000 educators will be needed to fill gaps in the next decade. But the number of students enrolled in education degree programs has been steadily declining since 2010, when 79,214 students were enrolled in programs across the state.
By 2017, that number had declined by more than 50%, to 37,080, according to data compiled by the union.
“The shortage has been coming, but the pandemic has really exacerbated it,” Snyder said. “We’ve seen a jump in retirements of 30% year-to-year.”
The program is also opened to anyone in the community seeking to become a teacher, though Schenectady students are given priority, Snyder said.
Steady Moono, president of SUNY Schenectady, said the program is proof that good things happen when organization’s work together, and will allow the Schenectady school district to address a longstanding concern using graduates.
“We don’t have to look for, we just have to look right here,” he said..
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.