Scholars engaged with newfound excitement recently when a support paraprofessional who is Somali started at Tanglen Elementary.
“The energy in the building of students knowing that we had a new employee that looked like them and they could relate to in a different way was palpable,” Tanglen principal Jim Hebeisen said.
Students were excited to see themselves reflected in a staff member, and their response was not insignificant. Data shows that when a student has at least one teacher who shares their race or ethnicity, they are more likely to do better in school. Hopkins has a longstanding partnership with Metropolitan State University, which helps place staff of color into student teaching roles with the hope of retaining them as classroom teachers. The District also recently partnered with a local organization to recruit Black male educators.
Black Men Teach recruits, prepares, places, and retains Black male teachers in elementary schools. The program hopes to have 20 percent of teaching staff at each partner school be Black men within six years.
“This is a long-term problem so the solution is going to take that persistence and long-term commitment,” Hebeisen said.
Black Men Teach is paving the way for young Black boys to see themselves represented in education and hopefully pursue a career in education.
Hopkins is a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds. The student body is made up of 68 different heritage languages, yet staff are more than 80 percent white. Those statistics are not uncommon in Minnesota.
“I didn’t have any teachers who were Black until I went to college,” said Mascuud Ali, a Black Men Teach intern placed in an Eisenhower classroom. “I think if I did, I would have had a better understanding of myself and who I am.”
Ali was a Hopkins High School graduate, but the lack of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) teachers in the classroom is a common experience. Zay Manley, a full-time PSEO student at North Hennepin Community College and current intern at Eisenhower Elementary, never encountered a Black teacher in his education either.
Manley noticed his impact on students on day one of his internship. They were saying things like “he talks the way my family talks” or “he looks like me.” When students start to see a piece of themselves in an educator or intern like Manley, they begin to see a career in education as an opportunity for themselves.
Matching student and staff demographics
When Eisenhower Elementary teacher Mae Gruss heard about the program, she jumped at the opportunity to mentor an intern.
“The program is built to help have windows and mirrors here in school to get more Black men into the educational field which is an excellent thing because our Black boys definitely need to see themselves represented,” she said.
As a 23-year teaching veteran, she has seen a shift in Hopkins since Vision 2031 goals were set in 2018. A critical success indicator of Vision 2031 is that staff demographics reflect the student body. Since setting the goal in 2018, Hopkins has already doubled the number of administrators of color in leadership roles, but there is a lot more work to be done.
Gruss hopes to be a part of the change through the Black Men Teach partnership, and she is off to a good start. She is currently mentoring her second intern.
“I am absolutely on board with every opportunity I get to make a change and make a difference for our schools,” she said.
Benefits all students
The environment in Lisa Hake’s outdoor classroom at Eisenhower Elementary has been enriched since her Black Men Teach intern arrived. Hake is Manley’s mentor and while she is there to support his teaching experience, she has learned just as much from him.
“We know that as educators, especially white educators — we’ve been brought up in similar backgrounds,” Hake said. “He brings a different perspective.”
When students get an opportunity to experience teachers from different backgrounds and cultures, it makes their education richer. As the world grows more connected, exposing scholars to differences and connecting to them to what is familiar will allow them to develop empathy and a global perspective they will need to succeed in the future.
“When you open yourself up to all those different perspectives, big changes can be made,” Hake said.