Founder’s Blog

Woody Exley’s updates on the Alma Exley Scholars

Second Graders Get Multicultural Library

When Ivy Horan was an elementary school student in Duxbury, Mass., she never saw books about people who looked like her.

Ivy Horan

Last summer, as she began to prepare for her first teaching position, she decided to provide a different experience for her second graders at Mayberry School in East Hartford.

She posted an appeal on Facebook and other social media for donations of books on multicultural topics featuring diverse people.

I got the idea for this multicultural book project from reflecting upon my own K-12 schooling experience,” she said. “I realized that I never was exposed to diverse or multicultural books. This has been my motivation throughout my entire project: to ensure that my students are given more representative books than I was as a child.”

UConn Graduate

Ms. Horan received an Alma Exley Memorial Scholarship in 2019 as a student at UConn. She received her master’s degree in May 2020 and began her teaching career in September.

Ivy Horan with some selections from her multicultural library

“I have collected more than 60 books that have characters from different backgrounds, races, cultures, religions, and with varying familial compositions,” she said. “I am working on finding as many different representative and diverse books as I can for my classroom library.”

Inspiring Diverse Students

This is relevant because all of Ms. Horan’s second graders are students of color. Her class includes students who are Black, Latino and mixed-race. A number are English-language learners, who speak Spanish as well as African languages.

Click here to visit the Amazon site to contribute one or more books to Ms. Horan’s classroom library.

“I am extremely thankful for the donations,” she said. “I received books from family members, friends, professors, and various people whom I worked with throughout my time at UConn.

“What was most surprising was that I also received books from a handful of old friends from middle school and high school whom I haven’t talked to in years. It was amazing to see how everyone, whether I have remained close to them or not, came out to support my project and me. I am forever grateful. Every book that I received is now in my classroom library.”

She began by posting a wish-list of books from Amazon. Down the road, she hopes to expand her outreach to find more programs or websites that could help her find more diverse books for her classroom.

Right now, because of Covid-19 guidelines, Ms. Horan is the only one who can touch the books. Because of this, she is using the books as “mentor texts” and reading aloud to her students.

Supporting the Curriculum

“I also use these diverse books in teaching some of my curriculum,” she added. “For example, last week we were doing a lesson on ‘taking notes’ with informational or nonfiction texts. We had been reading a book about sharks, but instead of continuing with that book, I used the book ‘Turning Pages: My Life Story’ by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Not only is this story about the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, it also aligned perfectly with our celebration and recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month.

“So not only can I use the books as read-aloud, I can also use them within the curriculum. In the future, I hope to turn my classroom into a lending library where students can keep the books at their seats for a designated amount of time and do independent reading. But for the time being with Covid-19, this is my safest approach.

“My students love the books,” she said. “It has been really wonderful to see students making connections from their own lives to the books.

“For example, I have a handful of students who speak Spanish. When we read the book, ‘Mango, Abuela, and Me’ by Meg Medina, those students were really excited to hear some of the Spanish words they know. This engaged the entire class in a conversation about language and what other Spanish words they know, who in their family speaks Spanish, and how they learned Spanish.

Encouraging Conversations

“These multicultural texts have been a foundation to help my students and me have more conversations about diversity and connect the ideas from the books to our own lives.”

Ms. Horan takes seriously her responsibility to serve as a positive role model for her students. “I have a class that is all students of color, and I know I am making an impact by just being their teacher since I am a teacher of color,” she said.

“I create a safe, welcoming, and loving community for all students and foster a community of care within my room every day. And that, books aside, is what our students of color so often need with everything going on in our world today.”

Hearty congratulations to Ivy for taking the initiative in her first year on the job to create a welcoming classroom environment for her diverse students.

  • Woody Exley

Alma Exley Scholar Growing as a Leader in Meriden

Orlando Valentin Jr., whom we honored in 2016, has emerged as a leader in educational equity issues in the Meriden public schools.

He has been teaching fourth grade at Casimir Pulaski School in his hometown of Meriden since earning his master’s degree from UConn. He is in his second and final year in the UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP). I expect we will see Mr. Valentin go on to a distinguished career as an educational leader in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Valentin sends a heartfelt message to the students he hasn’t seen in-person in months.

In the past two years he has received about $5,000 in grant funds from an alliance of Regional Education Service Centers (RESCs) to enable him to focus on the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in Meriden. He has used these funds to set up an affinity group for educational professionals of color in the central Connecticut community.

“The affinity group gives the professionals the opportunity to network with their colleagues of color who likely have shared life experiences,” he said. “The group also has had various professional development opportunities such as a book study, attending a conference and training with an equity consultant.

“The program also enables them to take the DISC leadership assessment. This allows them to evaluate their leadership potential and create a roadmap for professional development.” (The DISC tool evaluates behavior in terms of Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness.)

Team of Equity Leaders

Mr. Valentin is entering his second year as one of 12 equity leaders in the district. These leaders train with an external consultant, Dr. David Cormier, and deliver turnkey modules to their colleagues which focus specifically on racial equity. Dr. Cormier, Mr. Valentin and two other equity leaders delivered a 75-minute presentation in August to Meriden’s cohort of new hires for 2020. 

He is active in the community as well. He has been coaching youth football teams since he was fresh out of UConn, and is entering his fourth year as head coach of the Meriden Raiders. He began as an assistant coach, then became a head coach and has led the same group of athletes in successive years as they have moved up to higher levels of competition.

A football player holding a bat on a baseball field

Description automatically generated
Coach Valentin giving a pep-talk to his team (prior to Covid-19).

Mr. Valentin said he is grateful to the scholarship program and its supporters who have helped him to launch his career in education.

“Thank you for putting this scholarship together and creating a network of professionals of color here in Connecticut,” he said. “Thank you for the scholarship opportunity which I and many others have benefited from.”

Our selection committee really knows how to pick ‘em. We’re delighted to see Mr. Valentin advancing in his career, taking on greater responsibility and making a difference in his hometown. He is one of many illustrious Alma Exley Scholars who are having an impact in Connecticut and across the country.

  • Woody Exley

Study Reveals Teacher Expectations by Race

A study by economists at Johns Hopkins University and American University found that non-black teachers have significantly lower educational expectations for black students than black teachers do when evaluating the same students.

“This is a big concern since teacher expectations likely shape student success, not just in school, but in life as well,” said co-author Seth Gershenson, an assistant professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs. “It’s important that all teachers maintain and convey high expectations for all students.”

The study illustrates the importance of hiring of a more representative teaching force and allowing for more teacher training to nurture, support and encourage all students, regardless of their innate ability, talents, behaviors, or home circumstances, the study authors said.

The findings highlight the need to better understand how teachers form expectations, what types of interventions can reduce or eliminate biases in teacher expectations, and perhaps most importantly, how such expectations and biases affect the long-run student outcomes, they said.

The study found:

  • White and other non-black teachers were 12 percentage points more likely than black teachers to predict black students would not finish school.
  • Non-black teachers were 5 percentage points more like to predict their black male students would not graduate high school than their black girls.
  • Black female teachers are significantly more optimistic about the ability of black boys to complete high school than teachers of any other demographic group. They were 20 percent less likely than white teachers to predict their student would not graduate high school, and 30 percent less likely to say that than black male teachers.
  • White male teachers are 10 to 20 percent more likely to have low expectations for black female students.
  • Mathematics teachers were significantly more likely to have low expectations for female students.
  • For black students, particularly black boys, having a non-black teacher in a 10th grade subject made them much less likely to pursue that subject by enrolling in similar classes. This suggests biased expectations by teachers have long-term effects on student outcomes, the researchers said.

The research, led by Gershenson and Johns Hopkins professor Nicholas Papageorge, identifies systematic biases in teachers’ expectations using data from a nationally representative survey of U.S. 10th graders. In the study, two teachers per student were asked how much education they expected the student to ultimately complete.

Having two teachers per student was central to the research strategy. Distinguishing biases in teachers’ expectations is difficult, since students who have black teachers may differ from students who have white teachers in systematic ways (e.g., living in different neighborhoods, attending different schools). The researchers eliminated these concerns by comparing the expectations of two teachers — one black and one non-black — for the same student, at the same point in time.

“We found that a non-black teacher is about 30 percent less likely to expect that the student will complete a four-year college degree than the black teacher,” said Papageorge. “This isn’t meant to lay blame, since bias is part of human nature, but it provides a place to start a dialogue between educators, policymakers, parents, researchers, and other stakeholders.”

The  study was published March 30, 2016 in The Economics of Education Review. The study was conducted by economists from American University’s School of Public Affairs and John Hopkins University’s Department of Economics.

  • Woody Exley