An anonymous $250,000 gift to Western Michigan University will provide annual financial support for 11 Kalamazoo Promise students who hope to become educators and could enhance the diversity of Kalamazoo Public Schools' teaching staff.

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ThinkStock; Alex Slobodkin

The anonymous gift and another $25,000 gift from Kalamazoo's Advia Foundation are the basis for a new WMU/KPS Future Educators Program. Each student selected for the initiative will receive $5,000 annually, in addition to his or her tuition scholarship from the Kalamazoo Promise. Students can use the annual award for room and board, books, transportation expenses or other items that help them successfully earn a degree and teaching credentials.

The new partnership between WMU and KPS was announced April 21 by WMU President John M. Dunn and KPS Superintendent Michael Rice.

"We have a wonderful donor who recognizes the importance of having a diverse teaching force that is able to inspire all students to take advantage of their college opportunities," Dunn says. "The donor has been working with us to leverage the Kalamazoo Promise in a way that will result in greater diversity among those headed for the K-12 classroom. This partnership with the donors and with our colleagues at KPS and the Promise is designed to provide that extra bit of support that can be a game changer."

Von Washington Jr., executive director of community relations for the Kalamazoo Promise, notes that while the new program is not an extension of the Kalamazoo Promise and does not change the Promise Scholarship, Promise administrators see the announcement as a continuation of the great work being done through community partnerships. They have worked with WMU and KPS for the past two years to help structure the program.

"We want to thank those who have contributed to he WMU/KPS Future Educators initiative for their commitment to helping all students succeed," Washington says. "We applaud the focus and intent of this program and see it as vital to maximize the opportunity and provide even greater access for students who need extra support."

The long-term goal of the Future Educators program is to increase the number of underrepresented minority teachers in Kalamazoo schools. A population of interest, for instance, is African American males who currently account for only 2 percent of WMU education majors and only 3 percent of the KPS teaching force.

As undergraduates, selected future educators in the program will have regular involvement in KPS schools as volunteers and teaching interns. They also will have KPS teacher mentors, and individual and group tutoring sessions with WMU faculty and staff. The Future Educator scholarship funds will support students in residential teacher education living-learning communities and in completing the required unpaid teaching internship. The funds also will help with costs associated with state teacher certification tests, as well as other expenses associated with higher education but not covered by the Kalamazoo Promise, such as books, fees, and transportation. Students who successfully complete the program will be guaranteed a job interview with KPS. If hired, the new teacher must commit to at least three years of teaching in KPS.

"This is a great new partnership among great partners," says KPS Superintendent Rice. "We appreciate so much our work with Western Michigan University, the Kalamazoo Promise, and our new donors, and value the support of all for our KPS children.

"This new program will make more diverse our WMU teacher education program and by extension our pool of teaching candidates for KPS teaching positions. Across the country, school districts with strong student diversity like KPS are challenged to find significant diversity for their teaching staff in our nation's schools of education. This program is a critical step on the path to a more diverse teaching staff."

Recruitment for the program is expected to begin immediately. A selection committee comprised of education professionals from the partner organizations will select a cohort of five students this spring for next year, and five next spring for the following year. Students will receive $5,000 for each of the five years of the undergraduate program. An additional student supported by the Advia Foundation gift will be included in the first cohort.

Preference in awarding the scholarship will be given to students who are first-generation college students, are from historically underrepresented college student populations, or are from historically underrepresented K-12 teacher populations. To be eligible for the program, a student needs to:

• Be enrolled full-time in WMU's pre-teacher education or teacher education undergraduate program,

• Be a KPS graduates and be eligible for the Kalamazoo Promise,

• Successfully complete an in-person interview designed to determine the level of interest in a teaching career.

WMU Education Dean Ming Li says the program is carefully designed to fulfill the donor's aim of increasing diversity and providing a supportive learning community that will help the selected students be successful college students and, ultimately, become successful educators.

"Each cohort of students will be provided with a faculty mentor who meets the students individually or as a group on a regular basis and monitors their progress," says Li, "When applicable, the students will be enrolled in the same courses to increase opportunities for success through group tutoring and peer accountability and support."

According to WMU's President Dunn, the donor's wish to remain anonymous will be honored, but at some point that donor may choose to be known and have the opportunity to interact with the students who are the gift beneficiaries.

"For now, we are thankful for the thoughtful nature of the gift and eager to find the right students to take advantage of this unique opportunity as we kick off this community initiative.

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