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Teaching the young to educate

By the end of this decade, the majority of the students in the nation's public school classrooms will be African- and Hispanic-Americans. But studies show that most of these children of color will not have teachers of color if the number of minority teacher candidates continues to decline at universities nationwide. According to a report by the Alliance of Leaders for Minority Teachers, only 10 percent of all elementary and secondary public schoolteachers are members of minority groups, while 20 percent of the children they teach are minorities. By 2000, only 5 percent of all teachers are expected to be minorities, the report said.

Part of the problem is that black colleges, which once produced half the nation's black teachers, are not enrolling as many students in their education programs. Between 1977 and 1986, enrollment in education departments dropped by 40 percent.

School districts are reacting to this news by scrambling to find minority teachers, by determining how great an impact this lack of minority teachers will have and by developing programs that will encourage minorities to enter the field of education.

Pinellas County is among the school districts looking at the problem. Besides actively recruiting minority teachers, it also offers scholarships for minority students interested in teaching, and it has plans for programs that will groom minority high school students to be teachers.

High Point, N.C., already has a program that encourages minority children to become teachers.

At last month's convention of the Na

tional Black Child Development Center in Washington D.C., Lillie Jones, associate superintendent of program services for High Point public schools, and Elizabeth Bridges, principal of Griffin Middle School in High Point, described that program.

North Carolina is one of only two states that has had three National Teachers of the Year: James M. Rogers in 1973, Ruby Murchison in 1977 and Donna H. Oliver in 1987. All three are African-Americans. In fact, minority teachers are the largest group of minority professionals in North Carolina.

However, anticipating the increase in the number of children of color in the public schools in 10 years, Jones, Bridges and others are working to increase the number of minority teachers.

They're doing it through an innovative statewide program called Project Teach. They're also testing the effectiveness of using community-based networks to assist minority youth as they apply for college and compete for teacher scholarships.

Four years ago, Project Teach received a grant from the National Conference of State Legislators. Statewide, about 40 high schools and three middle schools are involved.

"We try to recruit the brightest of our minority students," Jones says. "Originally, we started out with high school students. But we found that was too late. So now we start as early as seventh grade, and our focus also includes their parents."

Parents of seventh-graders sign forms committing themselves to the project. After special training, parents receive certificates of completion signed by the superintendent of education.

Jim Grant's book, I Hate School, was used as a resource to develop the project. In his book, Grant explains that the public school atmosphere is damaging for African-American students, who often are stereotyped as underachievers, so they find ways to insulate themselves. Tapes from author/educational consultant Jawanza Kunjufu were also used. Kunjufu is president of African American Images in Chicago, a publishing company and consulting firm.

Jones says the best seventh-grade model is at Griffin Middle School. Project Teach's planning committee included representatives from High Point's central office, the community and the staff at Griffin.

Before meeting with parents, committee members chatted with students to find out what they wanted their parents to know. Among other things, the students said that their parents needed to listen more and not dictate and that they needed to hear their explanations for why they received bad grades, rather than just punishing them. Students also said their parents should volunteer to help at school, talk to them about their futures and make them study three to four hours a day.

Parents were taught listening and coping skills. They also learned how to teach their children test-taking and note-taking skills and good study habits. And they were trained to encourage their children to get a college education. Teachers were also trained in the best ways to teach minority students.

Jones says students are proud to be in the program.

"It gives them a sense of belonging to a group," Jones said. "We've heard them say to other students, "I'm part of a seventh-grade model.' Additionally, it gives students an opportunity to feel that they are learning something and developing a closer relationship with their parents."

The seventh-graders' progress will be followed into high school. At present, 75 High Point high school students are involved. Those with grade point averages of 3.0 on a 4-point scale and a score of 856 points or higher on the SAT (out of a total of 1600) may apply for teaching fellowships worth $5,000 annually from the state. In the last four years, 15 teaching fellows have been selected. The program also secures summer jobs for the students.

High school students also are assigned mentors who talk to them weekly about grades and school activities.

In Pinellas County, school officials say they are actively recruiting minority teachers. Now, 13.5 percent of the administrators and 8.9 percent of the teachers are black, and 1.6 percent of the administrators and 1.4 percent of the teachers are Hispanic.

Ron Stone, associate superintendent for human resources and chairman of the Pinellas County Minority and Critical Teacher Task Force, says the school system also has established a scholarship fund for minority students interested in teaching. In 1992, the county will begin the Academy for the Teaching Arts, a special program to groom minority students to be teachers.

In the academy program, ninth grade minority students and others interested in teaching would take a college-preparatory curriculum. Their electives would include internships or apprenticeships. They would act as mentors and tutors for other students and would be allowed to take courses at local colleges. Master teachers would serve as the students' role models. As juniors and seniors, the students would assist at elementary and middle schools to gain teaching experience.

At the convention, Lillie Jones urged minority teachers to see that their school districts hire more minority teachers.

"There are young black students who have not seen a black teacher ever in their school," Jones said. "They may see a teaching assistant, but not a black teacher. If you know young people who have a gift or talent to teach, you have a commitment to encourage them. Black teachers must speak out about this. If we don't take the responsibility, who will?"