During a recent event at the University Memorial Center on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder, it is possible that you might have met a future Boulder Valley School District teacher.
“I encourage them to say to district leaders, ‘my name is… and in four years I am going to come to ask you for a job,” said Michelle Carpenter, a Boulder High teacher and instructor with the Pathways2Teaching program.
The gathering wasn’t a job fair or a reception for students in CU’s School of Education. The students introducing themselves to BVSD and CU leaders, as well as other community members, were BVSD high school students, eager to one day become educators.
They are part of Pathways2Teaching, an innovative program that aims to give them the support to make that dream a reality.
On May 1, students from two BVSD programs at Centaurus and Boulder high schools were at CU to present their research projects.
“Tonight was an amazing culminating activity. The students have been working since January on a variety of research topics,” Carpenter said.
The students presented on everything from the importance of bilingual education to bullying and their research was often inspired by personal experiences.
“One of our students was bullied when she was younger. It was traumatic for her. She found powerful statistics about bullying and her research presentation was informative as well as cathartic. She made recommendations for current educators, and she even had a tribute for students who committed suicide as a result of bullying,” explained Carpenter.
Pathways2Teaching is a CU Denver concurrent enrollment program designed for 11th & 12th grade students to explore teaching as a potential career choice while examining critical issues related to educational justice. The students also earn college credit. For the past few years it has been offered at Boulder and Centaurus high schools and soon will be expanding to other BVSD schools.
Through the Pathways2Teaching program, high school students:
Engage in a weekly field experience working with elementary students on building literacy skills
Gain college readiness skills as they learn to navigate the college search and application process
Earn college credits upon successful completion of courses
Learn to write college essays and research reports
Acquire public speaking skills as they present their research findings to families and community
Interact with college students and faculty during campus visits and guest lectures
Critically examine educational inequities
Understand that teaching is an act of love and a way to engage in social justice
“It is a good opportunity. We talk about topics that are around the education system, like the achievement gap for instance, why students of color have different graduation rates,” said Boulder High School senior Miguel Martínez.
In addition to discussing challenges in education, it allows Martínez and the other students to observe BVSD teachers and to even co-teach.
“We go to University Hill Elementary every Thursday. It is a big part of the curriculum. We are assigned to a teacher and we get to view the teacher and see what techniques they use or how the classroom behaves,” Martinez said. “My teacher allows me to take a group of students out and I get to tutor them. I work with fourth graders. Right now they are learning multiplication and division.”
Meanwhile, Centaurus students have the same opportunity in Lafayette.
“We go once a week to the kindergarten at Ryan Elementary and we get to support the kindergarten teacher in whatever aspect of learning the kids are doing that day. It could be reading, it could be math, it could be science,” explained Centaurus teacher Julie Ascarrunz.
If Pathways2Teaching sounds a bit like student teaching, that is intentional. It is a “grow your own” program which aims to encourage students to pursue teaching and then return to BVSD.
“I want to become a high school English teacher,” Martinez said. “I feel like it is my duty to become a teacher and especially a teacher of color and inspire those kids, because all of the teachers that inspired me were teachers who spoke Spanish to me and I really connected to them.”
While the program is open to all students, efforts are made to encourage students from diverse backgrounds, with the goal of ensuring future teachers better represent the students they are teaching.
“One of the tenets of Pathways is that you can’t be who you can’t see. I push back on that somewhat, because our students have incredible imaginations, but they need those imaginations to be fed,” Ascarrunz said.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell from their presentations, but by and large, these kids represent BVSD’s achievement gap,” said Carpenter.
“These students are not traditional students who have had a fantastic trajectory through education, because they have such great responsibilities and challenges outside of school,” Ascarrunz added. “A lot of them are emerging bilinguals. A lot of them face poverty, violence, domestic disputes.”
Martinez, for instance, is a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient.
“I was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. I came here before I even turned one. When people ask me what I remember of Mexico, I tell them nothing. Boulder is home,” Martinez said. “As a DACA recipient I have had teachers who have really doubted me. It has really brought me down and lowered my demeanor. I realize that I should use comments like that for strength to really show them I did it.”
He hopes to support students like him, encouraging them.
“I want to use my voice to inspire them so that hopefully they can be leaders in the community. That is really what we need right now,” Martinez said.
The Pathways2Teaching teachers and district leadership believe that the program could be a key element in BVSD’s efforts to address equity issues.
“Every single one of the points of the equity summit are things that are addressed by Pathways2Teaching, including, how do we do away with systemic barriers to education. That is one of the primary things we look at,” Ascarrunz said. “How do we support individual students? How do we support families? How do we connect to people? How do we educate communities so the communities know what is available, what to ask for and what to expect as a constituency from their district?”
About 50 percent of the students from the program pursue the field of education in college. The hope is that, as the program expands to other schools across the district, more students will see teaching as a career choice.
“I think a lot of the reason that students do not reach for opportunities is because they don’t know they exist or they don’t believe it is a place they belong,” Ascarrunz said.
“I think a lot of students aren’t really thinking about a career in education for lots of reasons. I think some of them haven’t had the best experience in education,” added Brian Lightfoot, a CU Education graduate assistant. “We do want to create the option of education as a career.”
Students interested in Pathways2Teaching, should reach out to their school counselors or administrators.
Learn more about Pathways2Teaching program at http://www.pathways2teaching.com