Florida College creates $300,000 minority teacher program

Five students from St. Johns River Community College will be the first in the state to participate in a new scholarship program created to recruit, educate and place minority male teachers into elementary school classrooms.

"Call Me MISTER," which stands for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models, is an adapted version of the teacher recruitment program first created by Clemson University in an effort to provide minority children with the crucial role models necessary to help them become successful students.

According to Ulysses Gilbert, the program's coordinator, statistics show that the Northeast Florida district poses one of the state's largest needs. "While the state has less than three percent of minority teachers who are male, our district has less than one percent," Gilbert said. "Male minority students who don't have a strong, male role model at home are more likely to not succeed in school. If we don't begin shaping these young men at an early age, we may lose them to stereotypes forever."

SJRCC President Joe Pickens, who presented the concept of a Florida version of Clemson's program to the Commissioner of Education and other government officials during his last year as a state legislator, said the program is overdue. Pickens said his dedication to the program emerged from his 17 years as the Putnam County School Board attorney where he witnessed first hand the shortage of minority male teachers and the effect it has had on local communities. "I saw an absence of male role models in the school system and realized something needed to be done," Pickens said. "There is an abundance of students who need not only teachers - they need heroes."

The counties to be targeted by the program are the counties showing the most significant under-representation of minority male teachers. The counties within SJRCC's district are included. According to Clay County school district sources, the majority of its male minority teachers are placed within the secondary grades. Clay County currently employs three minority male teachers for its 4,511 minority elementary school students. Putnam County compares with 14 minority male teachers for its 2,607 minority elementary school students. St. Johns County employs five for the 2,230 minority students.

Flagler and Columbia counties compare with three male minority teachers for approximately 2,000 minority students in Flagler and no male minority figure in Columbia.

According to Gilbert, the $300,000 grant funded by the Florida Department of Education will also include additional students later this year from SJRCC as well as neighboring community colleges, including Florida Community College at Jacksonville and Lake City Community College. Gilbert said he is optimistic that the program will become an annual scholarship, admitting new students each year. The students who later transfer to universities and earn their degrees in elementary education are required to teach in a Florida public school for each year they receive the scholarship.

Pickens said the pressure is on for the program's first five students to not only succeed in the program, but also to succeed once they are in the classroom. "These are the men who will pave the way for this history-making program in our state," he said. Pickens added he was impressed with the first group of students as the majority of the participants will balance their classes along with work and family responsibilities, with each bringing his own perspective and personal experiences to the program.

The students selected to become the first MISTERS are Dwight Williams, Anthony Bellamy, Emanuiel Roberts, Derrick Blue and Aaron Espinoza.

Clay County resident Espinoza, who grew up without a male role model, said he not only looks forward to teaching, but is confident in his ability to relate to his future students because of his own personal experiences. "I understand the need to help children succeed," the 18-year-old said. "It's more than teaching; it's about mentoring."

Espinoza, who was once placed in the Exceptional Student Education program, said he would like to broaden his endeavors and teach in that specialized area. "Growing up, I know what it's like to be the student who doesn't catch on the first time or the student who takes longer to get it right," Espinoza said. "I can teach students to not give up."

Gilbert, who also serves as the North East Florida Educational Consortium coordinator of educator recruitment, added that five former MISTERS from the South Carolina program were selected as "rookie" teachers of the year from their participating schools. The current South Carolina teacher of the year was a graduate of the Call Me MISTER program.

Interested students may apply for the scholarship on the SJRCC Foundation Web page at: www.sjrcc.edu/foundation, or for more information, call Ulysses Gilbert at the North East Florida Educational Consortium at (386) 329-1294.

January 29, 2009

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