By Thomas Hartwell and Photos by Matt Yung

Building on the success of an initiative to increase the number of Black male teachers, Kennesaw State University is giving younger local students of color a chance to explore life as education majors and teachers.

The Future MISTERs Academy, a three-day summer camp hosted at KSU, invites middle and high school students from metro Atlanta school districts to learn what it takes to become a teacher, tour KSU’s campus, visit Bagwell College of Education’s Innovation Lab and dine at The Commons.

“A lot of these students have never been to a college campus, so that by itself is an eye-opening experience. We want them to know their life is just beginning with that high school diploma,” said Jabari Cain, Call Me MISTER program director and assistant professor of instructional technology. “We want this visit to be the jumping off point for them to realize that a career in education is both realistic and rewarding, and we want to start to help young students realize they can be a role model for the children who come after them.”

The Future MISTERS Academy was born from the Call Me MISTER program, first established at Clemson University and implemented at Kennesaw State in Fall 2021. Since its inception at Clemson, the program has expanded to schools in seven states and the District of Columbia.

Students of color represent more than half of the public school population in the United States, but Black teachers account for 8% and Black males only 2% of the teacher workforce, according to the latest available data from the National Center of Education Statistics.

While Call Me MISTER is part of the effort to narrow that representation gap, Cain and other Bagwell leaders realized they needed to capture the attention of younger students to establish a pipeline of education interest starting in K-12 to college and then into the workforce. And so, in Summer 2022, the Future MISTERs Academy was established.

Alexander Shannon is in his 26th year teaching, with 16 of those years at Tapp Middle School in Powder Springs, Georgia. Cain described him as an enthusiastic chaperone at last year’s Future MISTERs Academy, and Shannon says he’ll return with the same vigor to chaperoning this year because he knows how important initiatives like this are.

“It’s about seeing yourself in a male teacher of color. If you don’t see that representation, it’s hard to become something you don’t see,” he said. “The average male teacher of color was exposed to the idea of becoming an educator much later in life than the average white, female teacher. When young people see themselves in an authority figure who comes from the same place culturally or from the same kind of background, they tend to do better.”

One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that Black students randomly assigned to at least one Black teacher in grades K-3 are 13% more likely to graduate from high school and 19% more likely to enroll in college than their same-school, same-race peers.

Matthew Mbongwo and Noah Khalid, two of Shannon’s seventh-grade students, say Shannon represents an important example of leadership in their school career, and he was part of the reason they attended last year’s Future MISTERs Academy.

“Mr. Shannon has had a great impact on my life. He’s teaching me how to become a great young man,” Khalid said. “Even though education might not be my career choice, Future MISTERs made me realize I shouldn’t discount growing up as a young Black man and having a teacher like him.”

Mbongwo agreed and said Shannon’s participation at Future MISTERs was not surprising — he’s always involved with school activities and trying to get his students involved too.

“Future MISTERs was my first visit to a college campus, and it made me think about the future,” he said. “It’s sort of frightening, but it’s also exciting.”

This year’s Future MISTERs Academy will be hosted June 7-9. Cain says he hopes 20 to 30 students will attend, and those interested can sign up through the program application.

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May 17, 2023