Thanks to a new initiative focused on closing the gap between students and teachers of color in Henderson County, school officials and members of a community coalition are committed to increasing opportunities for students of color to pursue teaching careers in their own community.
For the over 4,700 students of color currently attending one of the county’s 23 public schools, the odds that they will be instructed by a teacher who reflects their own ethnicity is less than seven percent. Across the Tarheel state, the story is the same with just 21 percent of teachers being of color.
To address the disparity here at home, the Henderson County Education Foundation (HCEF) has initiated the Grow Our Own Educational Assistance Fund in partnership with the coalition and individual and corporate donors. The Grow Our Own scholarship is the newest of 25 scholarships available through the Foundation to support public education initiatives in Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS).
All of the Foundation’s scholarships are open for application beginning Dec. 10th. The new Grow Our Own scholarship amounts are for up to $3,000 and renewable for up to four years. The number of scholarships available each year will be based on the level of donor and grant support, and be made through an annual appropriation from the HCEF Board of Directors
This particular scholarship serves to recruit Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students (current and former) and current HCPS staff (teaching assistants, support personnel) interested in a teaching career, to train, develop and prepare them to return to Henderson County to join the teaching workforce.
With a goal of increasing the number of teachers of color in HCPS, the Foundation began working with a grassroots coalition earlier this year, and as a result, formed the Grow Our Own initiative. The Foundation began receiving donations from community members, churches, and grantors and finalized the scholarship criteria earlier this fall.
“As a district, we have been actively seeking to ensure that our school environments are a reflection of our mission statement, ‘We will honor the individual and nurture the potential of all children,'” said Dr. John Bryant, superintendent of HCPS. “We’re hopeful that the Foundation’s ‘Grow Our Own’ scholarship, alongside our new teaching career pathway, will in time help to expand our pipeline of teacher diversity.”
“We know it’s important for students to be able to see and learn from teachers who not only look like them but who share culturally relevant experiences and perspectives,” said Asst. Superintendent for Instructional Services Dr. Wendy Frye. “The ‘Grow Our Own’ scholarship is a strategic and collaborative move for our local educator workforce, because a teaching staff that’s more representative of our student population allows educators to be more responsive to the diverse needs of students, and to each other.”
The end goal of the new Grow Our Own initiative, explained Foundation Chairperson, Jessica Collins, is that current and former Henderson County students and staff members will consider majoring in education, receive mentoring along the way, and return to Henderson County to teach.
“This is an intentional effort on the part of our Foundation, the community, and our donors to support HCPS in its stated goal to close the gap between students and teachers of color,” Collins said. “If we can collectively make a further investment into the Henderson County workforce by increasing the diversity of the teaching population so that more students see themselves represented in the classroom then we will be a stronger, more inclusive county overall.”
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, children who have teachers who reflect their ethnicity do better in school, are more likely to graduate from high school, are more likely to continue their education and are more likely to become contributing members of their community. NC Policy Watch maintains that 53 percent of North Carolina’s public school children were non-white in the 2018-19 school year. Meanwhile, just 21 percent of teachers were non-white, although that is a 4 percent increase from 2005-06.
“We are indeed grateful to the Henderson County Education Foundation, its donors, and the community coalition for creating a path that will inspire many more local individuals of color to pursue a teaching career here in Henderson County,” said Blair Craven, Chairman of the Henderson County Board of Public Education.
The scholarship provides financial assistance and mentors to promising local students and staff of color who would like to become teachers and who would commit to teaching in Henderson County for at least three years after they graduate and become certified as teachers.
In addition to the Foundation’s new Grow Our Own scholarship, HCPS was accepted into the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s pilot program, “Teaching as a Profession” (TAAP). Launched in the high schools this Fall 2021, TAAP is a new Career & Technical Education (CTE) pathway designed to recruit interested students into the teaching profession, then streamline and incentivize the process by providing opportunities to receive college credit while still in high school.
While the program intentionally recruits students of color interested in teaching, the pathway is open to all high school juniors and seniors. When paired with HCEF’s Grow Our Own scholarships and resources, the goal of TAAP is to encourage students of color to bring their expertise back to Henderson County and serve as teacher leaders in the local workforce.
To learn more about the scholarship and its criteria, or to support Grow Our Own in Henderson County, visit, www.hcefnc.org/growourown.