Urban Fellowship Program Increases Diversity Among SCSD Staff

     Published on 10/25/16   Tagged under:    District News    Danforth Magnet School    Frazer K-8 School   

When she heard about the Urban Fellowship Program, Sheleia Horton was a Teaching Assistant in the SCSD, having only recently completed a Master’s in Education from SUNY Oswego.
 
“I wish the program had been around before I spent all that money on my degree at Oswego!” she exclaimed.
 
The SCSD Urban Fellowship Program was created to ensure that our faculty better represents the diversity of our student body. In exchange for a five-year commitment to teach in the SCSD, fellows receive full tuition toward a Master’s in Education at Syracuse University, as well as a guaranteed starting salary of $47,500 and, if they’re from out of state, assistance with New York State teaching certification.
 
With an interest in becoming an English as a New Language (ENL) teacher, Ms. Horton, an SCSD graduate herself, saw the program as her chance to work toward a second Master’s degree that would allow her to reach that goal. Sixteen other fellows join her in the program for the 2016-17 school year. Three quarters of them, like Ms. Horton, are New Yorkers, while a quarter of them have been recruited from out of state.


“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Ms. Horton said, noting that she will begin her coursework next fall. “Syracuse University is a good school, and the value of the degree is what got me on board!”
 
She praises the support that the Urban Fellowship Program provides her as a first-year teacher, mentioning the weekly meetings the group had leading up to the start of the school year, the monthly meetings that continue now, as well as the group outings that the program plans.
 
“Coming into a new job, there is so much to learn,” Ms. Horton said. “Nothing can prepare you for it. But many of us [fellows] use the Group Meet app, so we’re always in contact with each other. It’s really nice to have that support; to know you’re not the only one facing these challenges.”
 
Networking new employees into their work and the City is a proven strategy for retention – one that the Urban Fellowship Program is employing. Supervisor of Counseling Services Dr. Tracy Jackson leads the monthly outings intended to provide additional networking opportunities for the fellows and create a greater sense of community, as well as to help them learn more about the Syracuse area. Activities this year have included the Dunbar American Legion Friday night dinner, learning about Syracuse’s participation in the Underground Railroad and a visit to the Erie Canal Museum. In October, the group even planned an apple picking trip!
 
“The program is great because it allows newly minted professionals, who may have never put Syracuse on their radar as a location in which to work and live, a chance to experience a variation of urban education,” Dr. Jackson explained. “It allows them to put educational theory into practice and gives them the opportunity to become change agents. Plus, it changes the students’ whole learning experience. It’s an awesome paradigm shift that provides our students with positive opportunities to learn from educators who were recently educated or reared outside of the state, broadening their world. Fellows are able to share their personal experiences through oral narratives and incorporate that into instruction, maximizing the quality of teachable moments for students.”
 
Danforth teacher Santana Wayne calls Alabama home, only recently having completed his undergraduate work at Alabama State. He said he had never considered a move to Syracuse until he heard about the Urban Fellowship Program.
 
“The day before my graduation, [Assistant Superintendent for Middle Schools] Dr. Barbra came to my college and spoke about the program. I thought to myself, this sounds too good to be true! I wish I could do that! He pulled me aside and we talked… and I was convinced… I wanted to try it!”
 
Noting that the program’s assistance with relocation expenses helped make the move easier, Mr. Wayne insists that the biggest advantage of the program isn’t a financial one.
 
“One of the biggest reasons I wanted to be part of the Urban Fellowship Program is because it allows me to be someone these kids can relate to,” he explained. “I can be a positive, black male role model that cares for these kids. I tell them all the time – whether you’re purple, red, black or white, it doesn’t matter. We all bleed. But it’s not as easy for them to relate to people who don’t look like them. The kids are starting to let their guard down with me. They see what they can be – he’s a teacher, he’s funny. But he’s also smart and he knows his stuff and he cares for us. That’s a very important aspect of the program.”
 
Thank you to Syracuse University for partnering with us on this initiative, and continued good luck to all of the fellows who are serving in our SCSD schools!