When the administrators of south Florida's
Broward County School District scrambled to
address the district's acute teacher shortage,
they didn't have to look far: The answer was
already sitting in their classrooms.
The Urban Teacher Academy Program (UTAP) recruits
Broward County teens interested in becoming educators and
guides them through four years of rigorous coursework, classroom
experiences in local elementary schools and middle
schools, apprenticeships with master teachers, and a debt-free
college education -- all in exchange for spending three years in
the program and the promise that they will return after college
to take a guaranteed teaching position in a Broward school.
"We had magnets for medicine, aviation, and law, but we
didn't have any program that prepared young adults to go into
education," says Robert Parks, a member of the Broward County School Board and one of UTAP's primary initiators and fundraisers.
"I'm a teacher by profession, so I thought this model made
sense." It made so much sense, in fact, that the model has
expanded to five county high schools and is being mirrored by
seven more counties across the state.
The program creates a crop of urban teachers with staying
power. At hard-to-staff schools in low-income districts, new
teachers often burn out within a few years, and for Broward
County natives, the challenges of urban schools are familiar
territory. "They know the community; they're knowledgeable
about the school district," says Parks. "So there's a really
short learning curve."
The curriculum is also highly tailored and focused, and
overflowing with technology, one-on-one mentoring, and extensive
field experience, giving students a leg up on their intended
career. In ninth grade, for instance, the
future educators create lesson plans and
teach elementary school students in
teams. By junior or senior year, they are
student teaching on their own while in a
master teacher's class.
"By the time the
students graduate from high school, they
already have three to four years' experience
in the classroom," says Malease
Marko Berg, UTAP's district coordinator
and a mentor to its trainees. "They're
not just taking attendance. They are
using professional-development tools."
The vast majority of UTAP students --
more than 90 percent, says Berg -- are
also the first in their families to go on to higher education. A commitment to send these students
to college empowers a generation
of youth whose goals may not otherwise
extend beyond high school. From the first
day, UTAP staff take students on field
trips to partnering four-year universities,
help them navigate grade point averages,
financial-aid systems, and college-preparatory
exams, and encourage them
to develop short-term and long-term
goals, so that a college education quickly
becomes both tangible and attainable.
When they enter elementary school and
middle school classrooms as positive role
models, their tenacity and self-confidence
shine through. "The message is, 'If I
can do it, you can do it,'" says Berg.
Still, the model isn't a quick fix:
UTAP's first group of teachers won't graduate
from college until 2010. It's a long
process, an enormous financial commitment,
and, naturally, a lot of work. A program
like this, says Parks, "can't be just
someone's pet project. It's got to be a
But UTAP leaders are confident.
Thanks to growing national acclaim
Academies, was a
2006 winner of Harvard University's Innovations in American Government
Award) and a committed set of mentor
teachers, staff, and community leaders,
prospects for continued expansion and
improvement are promising. "It's labor-intensive,
but it works," says UTAP director
Sara Rogers. "It's what we ought to be
doing for every child."
Teaching the Teachers
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