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GVSU experts awarded global fellowship to address shortage and retention of educators of color

profile of student and teacher of color
Zai Wei Zhang for NPR
Zaiwei Zhang for NPR
Diversity in Education

The goal is to engage with K-12 students of color to help them see education as a career, continue to mentor them as they study at GVSU and supporting them in their careers.

The Grand Valley Center for Educational Partnerships has been selected for the 2022 cohort of Steelcase Social Innovation Fellows. The four-month fellowship will address issues of equity in education, according to fellowship officials.

The cohort will be provided tools, training and support to accelerate a program that works broadly to find ways to close a large numbers gap between students who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and teachers who identify as the same.

"We are thrilled to support this exciting group of educators and changemakers who bring a blend of powerful ideas and problem-solving talent to some of the most important equity issues in education of our time," said Adam Weiler, Social Innovation manager at Steelcase.

Mei Mah, associate director of the Center for Educational Partnerships, and Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury, associate professor of education, said the goal is to engage with K-12 students of color to help them see education as a career, continue to mentor them as they study at GVSU, and then support them in their careers, especially early on, to boost retention.

"It's so important that we address this because there are major social implications that affect a community when children are not seeing mentors and leaders who look like them," Mah said.

Mah noted that in Kent County alone, school districts would need to hire 2,100 educators of color to have a proportionate number of educators who look like the current student population. Nationally, she said, the number of students who identify as BIPOC is more than 54 percent, while less than 20 percent of educators identify as BIPOC.

Bailey-Fakhoury said research shows that diversity among educators benefits all students in aptitude, college aspirations and other positive outcomes because of the richness from interacting with people from multiple backgrounds.

In addition, teachers of color better understand the culture and lived experiences of their student counterparts, which can spur positive feedback as well as stem instances of classroom behavior being referred for discipline, Bailey-Fakhoury said.

Being understood is also important for the professionals, many of whom are teaching in settings that have not customarily included a diverse group of educators, Bailey-Fakhoury said. Mentoring and networking are important tools for helping with retention of BIPOC educators.

"You hope you are creating a network where you are able to associate with other folks who are like you, who are similarly situated, and who may have similar experiences," she said. "You're not having to explain and validate, you share it and people get it."

GVSU is partnering with KConnect, an organization that advocates for equity in education.

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