Heinz Fellows serve as mentors to help students pursue their goals

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As a former teacher and principal, I was delighted to open the Post-Gazette on July 5 and read the story “Program Aims to Attract Black Males into Teaching.” Given national and state statistics for African-American males entering the teaching profession, there can be no denying that we must commit to using creative, research-based initiatives to recruit and retain them in the field. Past and current studies validate the importance of providing African-American middle and high school students with mentors and role models who identify with and engage youth in more personalized and culturally responsive learning. This appears to be especially true for young African-American males who most often connect with teachers who look like them and relate to their academic interests and social challenges.

Robert Millward, an education professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is to be applauded for his research that primed and subsequently implemented the Black Men Teaching Initiative. His passion for creating a pipeline of strong education leadership for communities that have been historically left behind is admirable. The consortium formed with Community College of Allegheny County, Point Park University and California University of Pennsylvania has the potential to create an ongoing feeder program for African-American males to enter the teaching profession.

Although I commend the article for creating an awareness of this particular shortage in the teaching profession, I was disappointed with its marginalization of another Heinz Endowments-funded project, the Heinz Fellows Program. Contrary to what was reported, the fellows do not “visit” schools. They “work” in high schools and those with grades 6-12 for two years, serving as mentors, advisers, role models and liaisons between school and home. While they are not teachers, they spend the entire school day — and often beyond — with students, addressing their academic, social and emotional concerns. A strong bond is created through deliberate relationship building, and seeds are sown that allow students to pursue dreams and goals that would have remained dormant without this special connection. This encouragement and engagement is what schooling should provide for all children.

Education Program Director
The Heinz Endowments

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