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Rising educators earn teaching, administrator license in Iowa City schools’ fellowship
Fellows gain confidence, maintain financial security working and learning in Iowa City schools while earning their degrees
IOWA CITY — Aaron Martin “heard some chuckles” from his students when he was demonstrating different jump rope tricks in a physical education class at Grant Elementary School in Iowa City.
“They need to see you make mistakes too,” Martin said with a grin.
Martin loves seeing the smiles on his students’ faces when they reach their goals. On this day, some of the kids’ goals were to be able to turn the rope and jump over it once successfully. Other students wanted to complete a more challenging jump.
Martin is a teaching fellow in the Iowa City Community School District’s Grow Your Own program, part of the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion plan to attract and retain more teachers and administrators of color.
It’s important for young, Black boys to see people like them represented as teachers and leaders in their schools, said Martin, who recalls having only one Black teacher and few male role models growing up in the Iowa City school district.
Through the program, Martin is able to work full-time while earning a bachelor’s degree in K-12 health and physical education with a reading endorsement at William Penn University. The district pays 50 percent toward his continuing education.
“Being able to financially take care of my family was a big part of it,” said Martin, adding the program is preparing him for what to expect as a first year teacher.
This is the second year of the district’s Grow Your Own program, which started with a two-year fellowship for teachers to gain experience in administration. Now, there are opportunities for support staff like Martin to work toward their teaching degree, and high school students to explore a career in education.
Grow Your Own was funded with elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds, received by districts to offset costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The district received more than 40 applications and selected 14 fellows for the administrative fellowship last year.
Iowa City schools Deputy Superintendent Chace Ramey said the fellows will be “competitive” applicants for open administrative positions in the district this spring. The administrative fellows are guaranteed a teaching position in the district if a leadership role is not immediately available.
District officials are examining the school’s budget before deciding whether to move forward with a second round of administrative fellows this fall, Ramey said.
“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to continue the fellowship program in some manner,” said Ramey, adding the school board and district leadership “feel strongly” about it.
Last spring, the district also launched a student version of the program, aiming to support students interested in teaching careers, especially students of color. The district is working with Educators Rising, a curriculum for students to learn about the profession and explore career opportunities, develop skills they need and make informed decisions about pathways to becoming a teacher.
Students will be encouraged to enroll in Kirkwood Community College’s Education Academy to earn free college credit while they’re in high school and to explore their career interest. Upon graduating from the college, students are guaranteed a position in the Iowa City Community School District if there is an opening.
There are about 40 students in the program this year, said Carmen Gwenigale, who worked to develop the Grow Your Own program as part of her administrative fellowship last year. Gwenigale said being a leadership fellow in Iowa City schools district office opened the door for her to be the Iowa City schools director of curriculum, assessment and instruction this year.
About 7 percent of teachers in the Iowa City Community School District are people of color, while 43 percent of the students are young people of color.
“There are less individuals going in to teaching than ever before,” Ramey said. “If we can generate that interest early and show the great career it can be, we think we can motivate them to come back and teach in Iowa City.”
“It’s a long-term investment for us because we know most teachers stay in the communities they grew up in,” Ramey said. “It’s a smart investment to make in our community as we try to support and bring more diverse students to the teaching profession.”
Bryan Parker, an administrative fellow at South East Junior High School this year, said the fellowship was a “unique opportunity” to explore being a principal. After his first semester of the program last year, Parker made the decision to go back to school to earn his master’s degree in educational leadership and principal license at the University of Iowa.
Growing up, Parker recalls having only one administrator of color “to look up to” in school. He wants to be that “beacon” for others and encourage students to “go out and achieve great things.”
Lemme Elementary School Principal Ashley Mangan also found success in the fellowship program. Walking into Lemme Elementary last year as a fellow “felt like home.” When the former principal left to pursue another opportunity in the district, Mangan was there, ready and confident to fill the position.
“It was so positive and fueled my desire to want to be in that leadership role,” Mangan said. “It was the best experience possible.”
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