SOUTHERN COLORADO — With the shortage of Black educators in Colorado, one of Colorado Springs' oldest non-profit organizations is creating a new program to help.
The Sachs Foundation is partnering with Teach For America Colorado to build a pipeline of Black educators. TFA Colorado is taking the lead on identifying, recruiting, and training teachers since that is the organization’s area of expertise. Sachs is providing financial support for Black teachers working in Colorado who are part of the program, drawing on its experience of providing scholarships for Black Coloradans.
"There are not enough [black educators]," said Thomas McCartney, an English Teacher at the Air Academy High School. It is a problem that McCartney believes is not okay.
"Much like government, media, or mostly anything things to be representative. If your school has a percentage of minority students, your teachers should reflect that in some way. It doesn't have to be one on one or forced, but it should be reflective. You can't achieve what you can't see," said McCartney.
He says the lack of representation can lead many Black children into professions that rely more on talent than hard work.
"You have these trends of children trying to break into social media such as TikTok or YouTube. They see people who represent them on these platforms, and that is where they are going. You would like these children to see bankers, lawyers, and teachers," said McCartney.
McCartney knows all too well the difference diversity can make in the classroom.
"I know I am here as a teacher because I saw a black male teacher. I only had one in my entire career, and he was a middle school teacher in eighth grade. That person had such an impact on me that even though I am a second-career teacher when I finished my first career and decided to move into this. That was part of the equation," said McCartney. "He was the coolest person I'd ever met. He would teach exposition just by jumping on a desk and surfing. I had never seen anything like that, he was between your cool uncle and Dead Poet Society. I had never seen something like that in a classroom, and it was so inspirational."
This is why he believes there is a need for more Black educators in the field. The number has been on the decline throughout the years, but data confirms that representation matters to students.
Johns Hopkins research shows that the presence of just one Black teacher in grades 3-5 increases low-income Black boys’ interest in college by 29% and lowers the high school drop-out rate by 39%.
However, 150 of Colorado’s 178 school districts have no Black teachers at all.
"What we are trying to do is find ways to incentive Black undergraduate students thinking about a job in education, and take away barriers from them doing that," said Ben Ralston, President of Sachs Foundation.
The program will support them by supplementing their salary, providing training, and peer support groups.
"Most of the barriers for potential teachers are financial. Starting salaries are not great for new teachers, and because of the racial wealth gap in America — Black undergraduate students are graduating with $25,000 more in student debt than their white counterparts. So often times Black students will be pressured to go into high-income potential fields such as STEM," said Ralston.
“We’ve been committed to building a pipeline of diverse teachers for Colorado from the beginning,” said Dr. Prateek Dutta, Executive Director of TFA Colorado. “Black teachers have to overcome so many barriers, and this partnership is the perfect step in the right direction because now we have the resources to attract and retain Black educators by addressing the two major challenges they face: lack of funding and isolation. With Sachs Foundation, we can make a huge difference for Black teachers and students in Colorado schools.”
"You can't achieve what you can't see. So for many of our students, they don't know what they can do," said McCartney.
The Sachs Foundation has already committed $165,000 to the program this year and has announced it will continue to support participating Black TFA Colorado educators as they continue in their careers over the next three years. Sachs expects its investments to reach over $350,000 annually during that time.
The first cohort of 14 completed the program — and will be starting their teaching career this upcoming school year. Black undergraduate students interested in joining the program can visitteachforamerica.org.