Equipped with close to $3.75 million in newly awarded federal funds, Northwest Visa College and the University of Texas at San Antonio are determined to bring more Latino teachers into the workforce over the next five years through a new teacher learning community.

The Latino-Teacher Academy Learning Community, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, is still in the planning stages, but administrators aim to launch it in the spring 2019 semester. Its purpose is to get more underrepresented students into the teaching profession through Alamo Colleges and UTSA.

“Most teachers are white, and we know that preparing teachers that reflect the ethnic, linguistic, and culturally diverse population  … [will] provide students the opportunity to see somebody like themselves,” UTSA education professor Lorena Claeys said. “There is research that shows that when students … even white students … have a teacher of color, they all benefit academically.”

In 2016-17, 69 percent of students in San Antonio were Hispanic and 6 percent are black, according to UTSA data. In 2017-18, 45 percent of the teaching workforce in San Antonio were Hispanic and 4 percent black. That same school year, 35 percent of students enrolled in a UTSA teaching program were Hispanic females, and 11 percent were Hispanic males.

The program aims to increase the number of Hispanic students graduating from Northwest Vista College and transferring to UTSA in critical teaching areas. About 70 percent of students in UTSA’s teacher preparation programs came from community colleges, Claeys said.

The goal is to enroll 250 additional Hispanic, minority, and low-income students at Northwest Vista College or UTSA to become bilingual, ESL, math, or science certified teachers. The program also seeks to prepare 30 high school students per year to enroll at a teacher preparation program.

The program will recruit potential candidates from the high school level and offer support services outside typical academic counseling through mentoring, social-emotional support, and culturally relevant resources.

Recruiting the candidates is not enough, Claeys said. Claeys and Claudia Verdin, who is working on the learning community at Northwest Vista College, foresee many of their students being the first in their family to attend college. Having supports baked into their program will help retain those who may face barriers in obtaining a higher education.

For example, the community would provide textbooks on loan for students who could not afford them otherwise, Claeys said. “Many of our students are commuters and they work jobs at the same time, so just having the textbooks available for them to use I think would alleviate some of that financial burden.”

Verdin wants to place a special emphasis on preparing more Latinos to teach in critically needed subjects as she plans to hire more staff in these areas with the grant funds. These new professors will then go to high schools and recruit for their own subject areas.

These recruiting efforts could result in a large increase from the current number of Latino students enrolled in teaching programs at Northwest Vista, Verdin said.

After students graduate from the learning communities, Claeys and Verdin want to develop a research-based blueprint for other Texas schools to increase Hispanic teacher graduation and certification rates.

The two San Antonio higher education institutions are one of 34 grant awardees who received funds dedicated to Hispanic-Serving Institutions from the Department of Education in fiscal year 2018. Eight of the winners are from Texas.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.