Temple diversity in education grant aims to boost representation in classrooms

This October, College of Education and Human Development researchers will begin utilizing a $1.4 million federal grant to address diversity in education.

The College of Education and Human Development began utilizing a grant in October with the aim of fostering diversity. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the 2022-23 academic year, then-high school senior Lucas Santiago would walk about six minutes from George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science to Main Campus to attend education classes. Now, Santiago is a freshman secondary education major at Temple, pursuing his goal of becoming a social studies teacher.

While dual-enrolled at Carver and Temple, Santiago, with the help of College of Education and Human Development administrators, applied for scholarships, networked with future peers and got a head start on earning college credits. 

“I was able to manage high school when you’re doing your college applications, you have events, graduations, proms, all this stuff is like at the same time,” Santiago said. “It was a little challenging, but the program helped us out to manage it, so I’m pretty grateful for that.”

The experience was possible thanks to the Temple Education Scholars Program, which provides free summer and dual enrollment programs for 150 Pennsylvania high school students interested in education careers.

Now, Education Scholars, along with several existing fields and programs at the college, is receiving a boost in financial support. This October, CEHD researchers began utilizing their $1.4 million federal grant to increase the representation of educators of color, in hopes of engaging future generations of diverse students and educators. 

Nearly three years ago, Pennsylvania Senator Vincent Hughes began advocating for CEHD to receive funding from the American Rescue Plan, a COVID-19 stimulus package, but the college had to first navigate a lengthy trial-and-error grant-usage submission process. 

“[The proposal] took on a number of different iterations in terms of its design because there are certain things that are allowed and not allowed for the federal funds to be spent on,” said Juliet Curci, assistant dean of College Access and Persistence. 

Leading up to the final proposal acceptance, Curci met with Hughes and Pennsylvania Senator Sharif Street, whom she said was particularly helpful in providing feedback and motivation throughout the process.

The funding sends a very clear message: diverse teachers are needed and we recognize the tremendous impact they make in our schools, wrote Hughes in an email to The Temple News. 

“Senate Democrats have made it a priority to address Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage crisis, which includes addressing the critical shortage of teachers who look like our Black and Brown students and can relate to their life experiences,” Hughes wrote. 

In 2022-23, more than 1,358 Pennsylvania schools and 155 entire school districts employed zero teachers of color, and 596,852 students, including 103,621 students of color, are enrolled in these schools, according to Research for Action, a non-profit education research organization.

The now-approved funding will attempt to combat racial disparities among teachers by providing enhanced opportunities for CEHD’s students of color, including additional support through advising and affinity groups and helping early childhood educators obtain certificates and degrees.

It will also be used to recruit more graduate students from diverse backgrounds for innovative programs, like Temple Teacher Residency, an accelerated master’s and teacher certification program, and Education Leadership Pathway, a program within Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy, preparing leaders within the School District of Philadelphia.

The funding will establish an environment that fosters the entry and retention of more diversity in the profession, Curci said at an Oct.10 press conference introducing how the grant was planned to be spent.

Additionally, more Pennsylvania high school students, like Santiago, will have access to free summer programming and enrollment course experiences.

Santiago realized he wanted to pursue a career in education when he tutored his peers through the National Honor Society in high school. His Hispanic middle school social studies teacher was his inspiration, Santiago said. 

“He was my eighth-grade social studies teacher, and it was the first Hispanic teacher I’ve ever had —I’m Hispanic, also Puerto Rican — and it was cool to see a Hispanic guy who’s a teacher in the education field, which I’d never seen before,” Santiago said. “In a way, he kind of inspired me, he was cool with students and he was also doing his job, he was making sure that we were learning so I really liked that.”

All students benefit from teachers of color, leading to improved academic performance, higher graduation rates and increased college attendance, according to the National School Boards Association. For many students of color, having someone like them instructing their class makes it easier to form connections and see themselves as future educators. 

Although the grant will only be available until June 2025, Curci is hopeful many aspects of the grant will become self-sustainable. 

The overwhelming goal of utilizing the grant is to increase the recruitment and retention of teachers, with a specific focus on enhancing the diversity of educators, Curci said. As the grant will be used to uplift, finance and support aspiring and existing educators of color, their impact as teachers will hopefully inspire the next generation. 

“Teachers are the original influencers,” Curci said. “Younger generations want to make a difference and they want to have an impact, and there’s no greater way to make a difference and have an impact than to be a teacher to teach.”

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