Both school divisions say they want the diversity in their staff to reflect the diversity in the community, and one group working to accomplish this is the African-American Teaching Fellows, a non-profit that has spent the last nine years recruiting and supporting African-American college students who plan to be educators.
“I’m from a small county, and I was under the impression that I would go home and teach, which wouldn’t have been bad,” said Brandon Readus, one of this year’s graduating Fellows. “But this experience has opened up new possibilities.”
On Saturday, AATF graduated four new Fellows: Brandon Readus, Kelly-Anne Williams and Tamara Wilkerson—all of whom teach for Albemarle County Public Schools—and Britney Lambert, who teaches for Richmond City Schools.
Readus is a Longwood University alumnus and teaches kindergarten at Stone Robinson Elementary School. Williams and Wilkerson, both graduates of the Curry School of Education, teach at Broadus Wood Elementary School and Jack Jouett Middle School, respectively.
Currently, there are 19 Fellows teaching in Virginia, 13 of whom work in Charlottesville-Albemarle. In 2013 alone, the Fellows worked with over 1,000 young people.
Fellows, who must be enrolled in an accredited education program, receive financial support for up to three years. Because the program wants to attract and retain more African-American educators locally, Fellows agree to teach in Charlottesville or Albemarle for as many years as they receive financial assistance. Lambert was offered a position in Richmond before hearing back from the local schools.
Those selected are also expected to participate in programming throughout the year. They attend professional development sessions, such as AATF’s Teacher Leadership Institute and mock interviews, and they also conduct community service projects.
Readus said the mock interviews were invaluable.
“We got to meet principals in the City and County, so when the time came to set-up mock interviews, I had a feel for what the environment would be,” Readus said. “They also gave me feedback on what they liked about my responses, as well as what I could work on.”
Williams said AATF provides an opportunity for collaboration.
“We get to talk and be free about our experiences as teachers, and we get to bounce ideas off of each other,” Williams said. “That’s beneficial in the sense that if I’m having a problem or something is not clicking, I can call [another fellow].”
Ravenn Gethers, AATF’s new Executive Director, said the programming allows the Fellows to get to know each other and the community.
“We don’t want them to just come here and work for a year to pay back their fellowship and move,” Gethers said. “We want them to be part of the community.”
The non-profit also provides professional support, which stretches into the first year of teaching. During that time, Fellows attend workshops and monthly cohort meetings where they talk about their classroom experiences.
“At each phase we’re trying to figure how to support what they’re already getting either through their institution or their school district,” Gethers said.
Readus said the program prepared him for his first year of teaching in ways he wasn’t aware of.
“I had to deal with things I never thought I would have dealt with,” Readus said. “I don’t think I would have handled them as well had I not learned what I did in this program.”
Williams said AATF makes Charlottesville a more attractive place.
“There’s not a lot about Charlottesville that appeals to me as a young black professional, but the fellowship has really served as a home base,” Williams said. “The people in my cohort have given me a social network…and that plays a large role in my wanting to stay here.”
According to the 2010 Census, African-Americans comprise 12.6 percent of Charlottesville-Albemarle’s total population. School officials report that 13 percent of the teaching and administrative force in Charlottesville’s schools are African-American, compared with about seven percent in Albemarle.
Dr. Rachel Potter, Director of the Graduate Teacher Education Program at Mary Baldwin College, said that while Mary Baldwin’s student body is almost half minority students, “very few” pursue teaching.
“Some of the barriers include lack of interest in the teaching profession, selection of majors not particularly compatible with education, [and] being overwhelmed by the numerous general education requirements needed (particularly for elementary education),” Potter said, noting that these concerns are common across all students.
Potter said the school is addressing the issue by advising students earlier and debuting a new Liberal Arts and Education major this fall, amongst other efforts.
Both Charlottesville and Albemarle say they recruit at diversity hiring fairs and at historically black colleges and universities. Albemarle Spokesman Phil Giaramita said the County schools hire about two Fellows per year. Both school divisions also support AATF’s mission.
"We're enthusiastic partners of the African American Teaching Fellows, sharing the goals of serving the children in our community and wanting the diversity in our school division to mirror our city and student population," Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins said.
Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran agreed.
"We have made some progress over the past 50 years and it has taken far too long,” Moran said. “If we truly are to unleash the potential of every one of our children, we need the strengths and capabilities that each one of us brings to that cherished goal.”
Despite graduating, Readus said he plans to stay engaged.
“That’s what makes this program survive,” Readus said.
Williams plans on the same.
“Just because I’m graduating doesn’t mean I’ll be done,” Williams said. “I’ll still be involved and active, and I know I can rely on AATF.”
This story by Charlottesville Tomorrow references non-profit African-American Teaching Fellows. If you like what you have learned about their work, you can support them via Bubuti. You can also support Charlottesville Tomorrow the same way!