When 15-year old Jamia Corey moved to Madison from Chicago at the age of 13, she had a hard time adjusting, but she felt her academic needs were better attended to in Madison.
"The teachers here pay more attention to what the students are doing and help the students progress, but in Chicago they didn't really help you," Corey said. "They just let you do whatever you want to, basically."
Corey, a sophomore at Memorial High School, realized she didn't want her involvement with Madison's school district to end when she graduated.
"I've always wanted to be a teacher ever since I was younger," Corey said. "I first wanted to start teaching when I had my first English class. I love reading books and literature so that really inspired me."
In pursuit of that goal, Corey applied to be a part of a new scholar program called Tomorrow's Educators for Equity in Madison (T.E.E.M. Scholars), a joint effort by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education and the Madison Metropolitan School District to prepare Madison high school students to become future teachers and, at the same time, diversify the workforce in Madison schools. The effort is part of a broader goal to close the gaping achievement gap between black and white students.
During a recent hearing at the State Capitol on urban education, MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham stressed the importance of a diverse teaching workforce, admitting that the district has struggled to hire teachers that reflect its student body. More than 50 percent of students in the district are students of color, yet only 3 percent of its teachers are African-American and 5 percent are Hispanic.
Last summer, 11 students, including Corey, were chosen as the first cohort of T.E.E.M. Scholars. Throughout their high school and college years, the students will participate in summer and academic year coursework, job shadows and hold teaching internships. They will also meet regularly, work with MMSD and UW-Madison staff, and take part in school activities to gain experience working in Madison schools.
Tenzin Kaldheen, a sophomore at West High School, is also part of the program. Kaldheen came to the United States from India when he was 7 years old, and said his interest in helping others has inspired him to pursue teaching.
"In my math class, there are certain students that don't really understand certain parts of math and when I help them out and they finally understand it, they have that bright smile which makes me smile too," Kaldheen said.
He said he is drawn to Madison's diversity and that influenced his decision to want to stay and become a teacher.
"Diversity is more than just race. It's also about how people have different ideas towards certain subjects," Kaldheen said.
Over the summer, the T.E.E.M. students completed a three-week training at the university, a collaboration with UW-Madison's PEOPLE program, a pre-college pipeline designed for students of color and low-income students, many of whom would be first in their family to attend college. Corey and Kaldheen said that at the training students learned about racial bias in classrooms and shared personal experiences of racism.
The students also took a three-week summer course called the Educator Institute. Van Lac, a graduate student at the university, taught the class. She first got involved with the program by going to T.E.E.M. meetings when she was a teaching assistant for John Diamond, an associate professor of education at UW-Madison and one of the leaders of the partnership between the school and MMSD.
During the summer training, Lac's curriculum centered around anti-racist education, opportunity gaps and critical analysis of institutional racism and how it plays out in Madison.
"I was thinking about what are some foundational things students need to learn about to become teachers here in Madison," Lac said. "We are dealing with really large opportunity gaps between black students and white students here."
During the school year, students are meeting once a week on campus to continue their education with the program.
"I really commend the (people) who have made this happen. Unfortunately if we want to see real change it will have to happen from multiple approaches and standpoints," Lac said. "But I think this a really great starting place with what we're doing in supporting a diverse group of high school students who want to become teachers."
Lac said the students are currently in the midst of conducting a research project based on issues that arise from educational opportunity gaps. They hope to share their findings with teachers and staff with the school district, as well as the community.
Rodney Thomas, special assistant to Cheatham, is also the district's project leader for the T.E.E.M. program, and is helping to develop the model and curriculum for the scholars. During their sophomore year in high school, T.E.E.M. Scholars will detail their experience in high school through a research project. During their junior year, they will take their findings from their research project and see how it applies in classrooms and its effect. Then, as seniors, they will shadow teachers and eventually create their own lesson plan, which they will teach to students in their high school.
"With the model, we ask, 'How do we keep them engaged through their years in high school?' and 'How do we keep them interested, while at the same time building their skills to become future teachers?'" Thomas said.
The cohort of students will go through training and classes together throughout high school and college, which should be a great source of support as they learn and grow, Thomas said. In college, the students will be supported financially with scholarships and grants. If they complete the program, the students are guaranteed a teaching position with MMSD.
When she becomes a teacher, Corey hopes to teach English honors to high school freshmen and sophomores.
"I hope to be an inspiration to my students and be a great role model," Corey said.
Kaldheen said he wants to "inspire kids that don't have that many resources right now compared to the privileged.
"And I just want them to know that even if they don't have the best resources, it's really up to them for their future. Even if you have the resources, you can't depend on your privilege to get you far in life. You have to do that yourself."
Rodney said applications for the next cohort of students should be available next spring.