Students from the University of Connecticut and Central Connecticut State University have been chosen as Alma Exley Scholars for 2024.
Brianna Bobo is pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction at the University of Connecticut. She has a bachelor of science degree from UConn in secondary education with a concentration in social studies and history. She is a graduate of Conard High School in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Andrew Amaya of New Britain is a student at Central Connecticut State University. He is a secondary education major with a concentration in social studies. He is a graduate of New Britain (Connecticut) High School.
The program was able to offer two scholarships again this year because of the growth of the endowment at the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain. The growth has been achieved thanks to substantial contributions as well as solid investment gains.
A selection committee of respected educators chose the recipients from among applicants from educator-preparation programs in Connecticut. The selection committee was impressed with the potential of all the applicants. All were deserving and worthy of the scholarship. We need to keep growing the endowment so that we can award more scholarships in the future.
Tamashi Hettiarachchi, who is in her second year of teaching chemistry in West Hartford, Conn., has been selected for a prestigious national program that supports early-career science and mathematics teachers in their efforts to develop teaching expertise.
Intensive Five-Year Program
The Knowles Teaching Fellows Program is an intensive, five-year program that provides financial support in a variety of ways. The program provides stipends during the summer and funds for professional development and also enables teachers to buy classroom materials and join professional organizations. Fellows can also gain graduate credit for work in the fellowship.
Ms. Hettiarachchi, whom we honored in 2022, joins a network of more than 500 Knowles Teaching Fellows in 34 states and the District of Columbia who are committed to improving science and mathematics education.
In total, fellows are eligible to receive more than $50,000 in financial support over the course of the five-year fellowship. Fellows can apply for grants to pursue efforts that will have a positive impact on education in their own classroom and beyond.
Ms. Hettiarachchi received our scholarship when she was a student at the University of Connecticut. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry education and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from UConn before taking a position teaching 11th grade chemistry at Hall High School.
“I am so honored and grateful for this opportunity and recognition,” she said. “I hope to use this funding to meet the needs of my students and provide my students with new opportunities in chemistry.
“My pedagogy is rooted in love and joy in the classroom. I strive to ensure that all of my students feel they belong in a science classroom.
“As a teacher of color, I recognize the need to diversify the field and hope that I can aid in that process.”
Ms. Hettiarachchi is advisor to the Future Educators of Diversity Club at Hall High School and a building representative in her local union.
Two Alma Exley Scholars are engaged in an initiative to bring more people of color into the educator workforce in Connecticut.
Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, whom we honored in 2008, is managing director of academic programming for the Connecticut Teacher Residency Program (TRP), which provides a pathway for uncertified school personnel and others to gain teacher certification.
Theo Martinez, whom we honored in 2018, is an elementary teacher by day and teaches several courses in the TRP during evenings and in the summer. Currently, he is teaching a course called Teaching and Learning for Today’s Learner to the incoming cohort of teacher residents, over 90 percent of whom identify as people of color.
Dr. Sims meets up with Mr. Martinez in his classroom.
Candidates Have at Least a Bachelor’s Degree
“To qualify for the Teacher Residency Program,” Dr. Sims said, “candidates must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, though some have graduate degrees and professional credentials in other fields. Also, they should have experience working with marginalized populations as well as a commitment to diversity. Many residents have worked in schools as paraeducators, associate instructors, tutors, or teaching assistants.”
Candidates begin by taking courses during the summer, then spend the academic year in residency in a school under the guidance and supervision of a certified teacher. They take additional courses during the following summer. During their year-long residency, they receive a living wage and benefits. Afterwards, upon being hired as teachers, they receive mentoring support for three years.
In its four years of existence, the program has turned out 65 teachers for Connecticut elementary schools, and 90 percent are people of color.
Mr. Martinez brings to his TRP classroom five years of teaching in a diverse elementary magnet school in South Windsor run by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC). He also has taught in a state prison. He holds a bachelor’s degree from UConn and master’s degrees from the University of Hartford and the University of Southern New Hampshire, and he is working on a doctorate at the University of South Carolina (remotely).
“It’s an honor to reconnect with Violet and to work together to meet the program’s vision of disrupting current systems of inequity,” Mr. Martinez said. “Working with these prospective educators reminds me of what I love about being in the classroom. Year after year, TRP recruits unique candidates who are committed to addressing the teacher shortage while increasing the diversity of the teacher workforce in Connecticut.”
Reconnecting in the Classroom
Dr. Sims has known Mr. Martinez for years through their attendance at events sponsored by the Alma Exley Scholarship Program. Their paths crossed again this past year in her capacity as supervisor of the instructors in the Teacher Residency Program.
“Theo is a highly valued member of our faculty,” she said. “He brings to the classroom a wealth of experience in teaching in diverse classrooms, whether in public school or prison, and he shares our commitment to bringing greater diversity to the teaching profession in Connecticut. We are so fortunate to have Theo as an instructor who is also a role model and a positive example of representation and impact in the teaching profession.”
All supporters of the Alma Exley Scholarship Program may find it gratifying that two outstanding members of our scholarship family are working to fulfill Alma’s vision of an education profession that looks like America.