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.
Like many states, Connecticut is grappling with a shortage of teachers in general and teachers of color in particular.
But help is on the way.
Among a variety of initiatives supported by the state Department of Education is a program called Educators Rising. This program starts early by encouraging high school students to aspire to become teachers.
The story of Heather Miano, a teacher in New Britain, demonstrates how investing in the high school students of today can produce the teachers of tomorrow.
As a student at New Britain High School, Ms. Miano took courses and volunteered in local schools in a program that was a precursor to Educators Rising. She attended Central Connecticut State University and subsequently became an elementary teacher in her hometown of New Britain.
After beginning her career as an elementary school teacher, Ms. Miano transitioned to New Britain High School, where she teaches family and consumer sciences including child development classes. She also runs a preschool lab alongside the EdRising program.
Ms. Miano works closely with Eileen Marquez, who leads the EdRising program at the high school. They are proud that 14 EdRising students who graduated this year from New Britain High School are planning to enroll in teacher-preparation programs in college. This is up from 11 last year.
“The work within the program afforded me the opportunity to get real hands-on experience with children,” Ms. Miano said. “I learned about education from the ground up at a young age, and this validated my feelings of wanting to be a teacher. I was able to engage in lesson planning, field experiences, and networking with teachers and parents. This deepened my knowledge about the education profession.
“Looking back, I would say the program truly shaped and guided my trajectory into becoming an educator for the city that raised me,” she said.
Nearly 500 Potential Future Teachers
The program that gave Heather her start became Educators Rising three years ago. Now, nearly 500 students are enrolled in EdRising programs in high schools in Ansonia, Bristol, Hartford, Danbury, East Hartford, Farmington, Hamden, Manchester, Naugatuck, New Haven, New London, Norwich, Groton, Stamford, Torrington, Waterbury, and Windsor, as well as New Britain.
Some 83 percent of those enrolled are students of color. This could have an impact on Connecticut’s drive to increase the diversity of its educator workforce. Educators of color have surpassed 11 percent of the total workforce in recent years, and efforts are ongoing to achieve more progress.
Local Students Win Top Honors at National EdRising Conference
Twenty-six EdRising students from New Britain, New Haven, and Waterbury were among 3,000 students who attended the National Educators Rising Conference in Orlando in late June. Four of the New Britain High School students placed in the top five in the nation in their respective competitions.
Milon Angelo, who graduated from NBHS in June, placed first overall in a competition in Lesson Planning and Delivery in a CTE (Career and Technical Education) Classroom, focusing on student engagement. He plans to attend Central Connecticut State University in the fall, majoring in Secondary Education with a concentration in English.
Said Ms. Marquez, “We need more Black, male teachers, and Milon is a Black male who is passionate about fostering relationships with his future students and creating a culturally affirming classroom. We are so proud of him and all our students and their efforts at the conference.”
EdRising students at Central Connecticut State University
Don’t Wait, Get Involved
What advice would Ms. Miano give to high school students who might be considering enrolling in the EdRising program?
“Get Involved. Don’t wait it out because you are unsure,” she said. “I cannot stress it enough. I experienced quite a few hardships in my early high school years. If I hadn’t become so involved in the education pathway in high school, I don’t think I would have had nearly as many of the opportunities I’ve had over the years.
“I have seen students enter our program a bit unsure of whether to go into education. Then, all of a sudden, they reach a moment of epiphany and realize they have found their calling. They can truly see themselves entering this profession.”
Ms. Miano has completed her seventh year of teaching while earning a master’s from the University of Saint Joseph.
From a Dream to a Passion
“I was able to turn a dream into a passion,” she said. “Schooling always came relatively easy for me. However, the education pathway challenged me in a way I didn’t know I needed. By getting involved, I was challenged beyond the limits I originally set for myself and soon found that I was able to achieve so much more. The EdRising program is a monumental program that can truly model what good teaching is all about.
“It amazes me how much I’ve accomplished in seven years, and I know that I have so much more to offer as I continue to learn and grow. I am proud that I have been able to give back to the community and district that helped raise me.”