SRU’s RockTEACH program is inspiring BIPOC students to become teachers
A.J. Williams was one of 11 high school students enrolled in Slippery Rock University’s RockTEACH program who worked with fifth and sixth graders from Sharon and Farrell School Districts as part of the RockTEACH Summer Institute, June 21-23.
June 27, 2022
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — A.J. Williams is a couple of months away from starting his senior year at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, but this student could be just a couple of years away from becoming a teacher and role model to other students just like him. Williams represents the demographic of Black, Indigenous and people of color, known as BIPOC, that are in high demand in the teaching profession, with nearly 80% of public school educators identifying as non-Hispanic White.
Williams was one of 11 high school students who attended the RockTEACH Summer Institute at Slippery Rock University, June 21-23. The program's goal is to diversify the teacher workforce by promoting teacher education to underrepresented-minority high school students from low- to moderate-income households.
As an aspiring teacher, Williams is motivated more by helping people than diversifying an entire profession.
"I have always loved helping people, and for me (becoming a teacher) would be a good way to achieve my goal," Williams said. "I heard about RockTEACH through my school district, and I absolutely love the program. My favorite part about it is working with the kids."
As part of the RockTEACH Summer Institute, participants stayed two nights in residence halls with SRU faculty and nine student ambassadors, and during the three days they learned about the teaching profession and what it's like to attend college. They learned how to plan and teach activities and lessons with school-age children thanks to the participation of fifth and sixth graders from the Farrell Area and Sharon City School Districts' summer enrichment program, as well as preschool students from the SRU/SGA Preschool.
"This is a multi-layered approach to fulfilling our mission to recruit BIPOC students into the teaching profession," said Linda Zane, professor of elementary education and early childhood, who is one of the RockTEACH program directors. "There are so many benefits, from our students who are ambassadors to awareness across the wider population. The participants get to see what college is like, and, of course, we want them to come to SRU, but we don't push that. Our goal is what's best for them, and college attendance provides better outcomes, as well as what's best for the teaching profession."
SRU's College of Education launched RockTEACH in 2019 by partnering with Brashear High School in Pittsburgh, and its Teaching Academy Magnet Program. The pandemic forced a a two-year hiatus of the Summer Institute, but it returned in 2022. Students from four area school districts attended the 2022 Summer Institute, eight of whom were from Brashear.
RockTEACH is much more than a three-day Summer Institute though. SRU faculty and student ambassadors visit the partner schools, and they also host high school students from partner schools on SRU's campus.
"RockTEACH is a great program that connects our faculty to a greater diversity of students who would not otherwise think attending college is a possibility," said Keith Dils, dean of the College of Education. "This is how relationships are formed; you exchange ideas and build trust, and this program gives us a chance to showcase what we have, as far as opportunities, talented faculty, students and facilities."
RockTEACH program directors include Zane; Monique Alexander, associate professor of elementary education and early childhood; Jeremy Lynch, professor of special education; and Christine Walsh associate professor of elementary education and early childhood. Hannah Holl, associate professor of physical and health education, assisted with the wellness activities, and additional SRU faculty who attended and helped with the Summer Institute included Enoh Nkana, assistant professor of elementary education and early childhood; Sararose Lynch, assistant professor of special education; and Beth LaGamba, assistant professor of elementary education and early childhood.
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