Serving the Underserved

by Robin L. Flanigan

A decades-long Nazareth College School of Education initiative to increase the quantity and quality of urban educators continues to evolve.

“One of the things we’ve realized is that more traditional teaching is not going to work,” says Jackie Bryant, director of the Teacher Opportunity Collaboratives. “Our teachers came up with the idea last year to use television production to meet Common Core learning standards for English Language Arts, which is big in terms of creatively helping students meet standards in ways that are engaging.”

The result: A deeply motivating partnership between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School No. 9 and Rochester Community Television.

Since its start, the Teacher Opportunity Collaboratives has helped increase the diversity of teachers in the Rochester City School District, as well as increase academic skills and attendance rates and decrease school suspension rates. The program has added more than 160 graduate teachers of color to urban classrooms. Ninety-nine percent continue to work in urban education as teachers and administrators after five years in the field, an impressive number, particularly when compared with some statistics that put the average urban teacher retention rate at nearly half that after only three years.

TOC consists of the Teacher Leader Quality Partnerships program and the Teacher Opportunity Corps program. The first aims to improve student achievement while offering professional development for teachers at the two TOC/TLQP partner schools: School No. 9 and Dr. Charles T. Lunsford School No. 19. The second prepares historically underrepresented and underserved educators—all of whom commit themselves to 40 more hours of field experience than is required by New York State—to succeed in high-need urban schools.

Before becoming a TOC student, literacy education graduate student and School No. 9 teacher Quiana Rice ’14 was aware children come to her classroom with different needs. But through classes, workshops, and networking with other teachers, she has developed a keener insight into what that means for her teaching style.

“My goal is to make sure that if I were to have one Hispanic child in my classroom, he would still see books and pictures on the wall he can relate to,” she says. “We want these students to know that no matter where they go, they’re accepted and wanted.”

At the Children’s Defense Fund’s summer Rochester Freedom School, where TOC interns have worked during the past two years, the latest data show 100 percent of 70 students either maintained their instructional reading level or made progress in 2013. (Research has proven students can lose more than two months of progress in reading achievement over the summer break.)

“Nazareth is playing a big role in this very successful program because graduates are literally running the school,” Bryant notes.

She adds that success comes from knowing what makes students respond, from the books teachers select to the activities they plan: “We do a lot of culturally responsive training. It’s about knowing where the kids are from, what their experiences are, and then using that to engage their learning.”

Robin L. Flanigan is a freelance writer in Rochester, New York.

Demetria Lawton

TOC in Action

Rochester School No. 9 teacher Demetria Lawton is in the Teacher Opportunity Corps as well as the Teacher Leader Quality Partnerships program. She's working on a graduate degree in Nazareth's literacy program.

Find more information on TOC here