(Ashland, Ore.) — Recent research indicates the hiring of well-qualified minority teachers is a significant factor in closing the achievement gap experienced by minority students in primary and secondary education. If the students currently studying to become elementary school teachers in Southern Oregon University’s elementary education program are any indication, classrooms throughout the region may be staffed by significantly more minority teachers in the very near future.
More than a half dozen students of Hispanic heritage are nearing completion of SOU’s elementary education and Master of Arts in teaching programs. That compares to only about one per year during the previous decade. “With most projections indicating the Hispanic and Latino population is expected to continue to increase in southern Oregon, it will become even more important to ensure that our education system is properly serving those students from preschool on,” according to Susan Faller-Mitchell, coordinator for the SOU Elementary Education program.
Senior Kelly Ramirez, of Grants Pass, believes her dedication to learning will pay off. She has recently been awarded an academic scholarship from the Josephine County Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma based on her high GPA and her goals as a pre-service teacher. She remembers struggling in her elementary grades. “I was still learning both languages and it was hard to explain my thinking. I kept wishing there was someone who could understand me.” Ramirez credits her parents for encouraging her to work hard in school as they never had the financial resources to go to college. Ramirez notes her parents often came to parent/teacher conferences and pretended to know what was being shared because they were too embarrassed to say they didn’t understand enough of the language. “When I am a teacher, I want to help parents communicate with us,” she said. Ramirez is a first-generation college student in her family.
Senior Eduardo Steiger, of Medford, has demonstrated his passion for minority students and students living in poverty. He has been working with Kids Unlimited Academy for three years as an educational assistant and enrichment leader. “I realized that I can really make a difference in these kid’s lives. I never had such a strong purpose for my life before this,” Steiger noted. He is of Mexican heritage but has been raised in a white family. He shared that he never really felt accepted by the white culture, but through working with Hispanic students and families at Kids Unlimited he is now “experiencing his own roots and learning to be a role model.”
“In order to close the achievement gap, we must put teachers who actually represent underserved communities in front of those students. Not only do they serve as teachers, but they serve as authentic mentors as well. That is a very important component that can sometimes be lacking when students don’t have role models who share many of the same experiences and cultures,” Faller-Mitchell added.
The state of Oregon is now requiring teacher preparation programs to provide pre-service teachers with the knowledge and skills to support second language learners. This work is enhanced in the SOU programs by these future teachers who were themselves second language learners.
About Southern Oregon University
Southern Oregon University provides outstanding student experiences, valued degrees, and successful graduates. SOU is known for excellence in faculty, intellectual creativity and rigor, quality and innovation in connected learning programs, and the educational benefits of its unique geographic location. SOU was the first university in Oregon—and one of the first in the nation—to offset 100 percent of its energy use with clean, renewable power, and it is the first university in the nation to balance 100 percent of its water consumption. Visit sou.edu.