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[Photo: Master Teacher Ana Serrano-Stanco (right) watches on as Teacher Resident Sierra Willis (left) instructs a classroom]

The CREC Teacher Residency Program provides a pathway to elementary certification program that takes a unique approach to attracting and retaining minority teacher candidates (“residents”).
The 18-month, no-cost program reduces barriers to traditional certification program admission. Each teacher resident is paired with a master teacher, who they spend one year training with while receiving pay and benefits. Residents are guaranteed a full-time teaching position upon completion of the program and certification requirements.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price visited CREC’s Glastonbury-East Hartford Elementary Magnet School to meet program coordinators, master teachers, and participants.

Marlene Lovanio, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning for CREC Magnet Schools, says she became involved in the program because she’s passionate about teacher credentialing, making sure teachers are well qualified, and having the right people in the classroom.

“Approximately 75% of our students are students of color, but only about 14% of our teachers are teachers of color,” she explains. “It was exciting to see how we could design a program that would be different from a university program to meet our students’ needs and benefit individuals passionate about teaching who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to go to school full time to get their teacher certification.”

As a minority teacher with 15 years of teaching experience, stepping into the role of CREC Teacher Residency Program Coordinator was bittersweet for Ushawnda Mitchell. “I felt sad about leaving the classroom, because that’s been my passion,” she says. “At the same time, I knew it was a great opportunity to help other minority teachers take the path I took to a career in education.”

In her role, Ushawnda serves as both program coordinator and a mentor, providing master teachers and teacher residents with support inside and outside of the classroom.

Kristi Hummel, Principal of Glastonbury-East Hartford Magnet School, describes her role as a mentor to the mentors and mentees.

“We’re fortunate to have the three sets of master teachers and teaching candidates here on site,” she says. “The candidates here are phenomenal and have initiative, and they’re paired nicely with their master teachers. The way they’re collaborating has been beneficial for everyone.”

Third Grade Teacher Kavitha Rogers was paired with Teacher Resident Jamil Ragland. Kavitha was excited about the program when it started. “It provides an opportunity to diversify our staff. It’s important for students to see themselves reflected in the teachers who teach them every day,” she emphasizes. “It’s been a great program to teach and to learn from someone who provides a fresh perspective.”

Jamil had been attending community college and tutoring middle school and high school when he joined the CREC Teacher Residency Program. “This program provides a clear path to a sustainable future in education and an opportunity for me to do what I really enjoy: working with students,” he says.

“I can learn on the job with the benefit of having a master teacher and instructing in the classes during the day and getting theory and instruction at night. That was a big draw for me, being able to have both of those tracks at the same time and put them into practice together,” he adds.

Teacher Resident Dana McCorkle is coming at the program from a different lens. She worked her way up as a paraeducator and became a Family and Community Engagement Specialist at CREC’s Discovery Academy, an experience that enabled her to “see the family, student, and staff perspective,” she explains.

Dana acknowledges it’s always been a passion to become a teacher and provide a role model for kids by looking like them and understanding them; however, it was challenging as a single mom to work and pay for a teacher certification. She jumped at the chance to participate in the CREC Teacher Residency program. “I feel like I’ve been on a path where I’ve experienced all these different routes in education in a supporting and learning role, and now I can learn new things and make a difference in a new way.”

Dana was paired with Fourth Grade Teacher Deborah Saunders, who is Puerto Rican and has been teaching for more than 20 years. “I would’ve loved this type of support when I started teaching, because there weren’t a lot of teachers of color. There still aren’t and it’s a difficult journey,” she explains. “I found this program interesting because it’s building a pool of applicants. It’s giving people who would normally have obstacles in their way of getting teacher certification an avenue in and I want it to be a support for that process.”

First Grade Teacher Ana Serrano-Stanco has been teaching for more than 16 years. She became involved with the CREC Teacher Residency Program for similar reasons. “When I came here from Puerto Rico, from middle school on, there wasn’t anyone who looked like me or sounded like me. So, I struggled and I felt like I didn’t have a voice,” she says. “When I heard about this program and the opportunity to be a master teacher and mentor, I knew that was the best way to give back to my profession—and to enhance my skills even more.

This is an intense program, Ana underscores. “That’s why we have to support our candidates and guide them along the way.” She says working with Teacher Resident Sierra Willis has been “extremely rewarding.”

Sierra learned about the program through a supervisor at an afterschool program where she was working. “I always wanted to be a teacher, and this is an amazing opportunity to start that path,” says Sierra. “What I’ve gained is friendship, support, and a lot of knowledge. I’m finding out what type of teacher I’m going to be.”

Sierra says the bonds she’s built with her mentors and fellow residents are priceless. “I know I have support and I can’t give up because so many others believe in me. And that’s a wonderful experience.”

As the 2019–2020 program wraps and CREC begins looking at programming for next year, CREC Teacher Residency Program Coordinator Ushawnda Mitchell notes they have learned a lot along the way. “Based on feedback from participants, next year, the program will expand from four to five days a week and include more content and training,” she says.

Moving into next year, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning for CREC Magnet Schools Marlene Lovanio notes, “My focus is shifting from planning the program to making it sustainable. How do we roll it out to other districts so next year we can support additional candidates from other districts? How do we maximize the capacity so we can build up more certified teachers?”

Glastonbury-East Hartford Magnet School Principal Kristi Hummel emphasizes, “CREC is on the forefront of taking new approaches to teacher preparation and the need for minority recruitment, which is long overdue.” She adds, “I want to ensure we can continue the program.”

CREC is accepting applications for the 2020–2021 Teacher Residency Program now through March 6, 2020. Learn more and apply for residency.