A national program that recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in poor school districts has been awarded $1 million to continue its work in Buffalo.
The money to Teach For America Buffalo was announced Tuesday by KeyBank and the First Niagara Foundation, which will pay out the $1 million over the next four years to help with teacher recruitment and training.
The decision to invest in Teach For America was an easy one, said Buford Sears, KeyBank’s Buffalo market region president.
“Education and the workforce are our two priority areas,” added Elizabeth Gurney, executive director of the First Niagara Foundation. “Teach For America covers both of those.”
The Buffalo Public Schools, where black and Latino students make up two-thirds of the enrollment, have struggled to diversify the teaching ranks and in 2014 contracted with Teach For America, which is partners with AmeriCorps.
Over the past five years, a total of 120 young recruits from around the United States – Alabama, California, Colorado, New York City, Texas – have been brought in to teach in the city school system. Roughly half of the recruits identify themselves as minority, said Katie Campos, executive director of Teach For America Buffalo.
This school year, 60 are in their first or second year of their obligation, while another 25 have remained teachers in the school system past their two-year commitment, Campos said.
“It’s been difficult to get people here, but once they get here they want to stay,” Campos said. “We have one of the highest retention rates in the country post two-year commitments.”
Those recruited to Buffalo by Teach For America are paid by the school district and become members of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. While the union has raised some questions about their lack of experience and readiness for the classroom, Superintendent Kriner Cash called Teach for America one of the district’s most important partnerships.
“We put them in what we call our high-needs schools where we want diversity, because our children are diverse,” Cash said. “So Katie really made a conscious effort to go out and recruit students of color.”
There’s also an emphasis on bringing in recruits who are bilingual and can teach in subject areas where there’s a shortage of educators.
“We have a growing number of areas, like special education, multilingual education, science, that is very difficult to find teachers – period,” Cash said.
The announcement was made Tuesday morning at Frank A. Sedita Academy.
Sedita Academy – a pre-K to eighth-grade school on the West Side, where three-quarters of the students are Hispanic – relies on Teach for America to supply a dozen classroom teachers, said Principal Rafael Perez.
“We don’t have many teachers our kids can identify with, but through TFA we’ve been able to fill that need,” Perez said. “It’s not just the language, it’s identifying culturally.”
The district’s contract with Teach for America expires at the end of the school year, but the superintendent is expected to ask the School Board to renew the agreement.