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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

New Grant Helps Faculty, Students Work Together to Support Aspiring Teachers of Color

A group of masked students representing the Educators of Color club pose with a posterboard during a holiday book and gift drive.
Written By Keegan Koberl // Photos by Manuela Cruz

In the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic in fall 2020, seven students of color preparing to go into teaching sought a way to create a greater sense of community and support for their journey into education. Those seven students created the Educators of Color club.

Since its founding, the club has already made an impact in the local community: they’ve organized an annual holiday toy drive for children of farmworkers, provided school supplies to young students during distance learning and purchased over $1,000 worth of groceries for farmworkers and their families. The club even received Cal Poly’s Community Service Award for significant contribution by an organization in 2021.

Now, less than two years after it began, the club is getting more resources thanks to Tina Cheuk, assistant professor in the School of Education and a co-founder of the group, and Amanda Frye, an assistant professor in the Liberal Studies Department. In early 2022, Frye and Cheuk received a $50,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation to work with the Educators of Color club and learn how student-led organizations can best support students of color interested in entering the teaching profession.

Masked students stand behind backpacks filled with school supplies for farmworkers' families.
Educators of Color Club members prepare backpacks with school supplies for farmworkers' families in Santa Maria.

“Across K-12 education, retaining teachers, especially teachers of color, is a major challenge,” Cheuk said. “We know that having a sense of a support network can help teachers navigate their careers, but there is not a lot of research on how these networks form and operate.”

Over the next three years, Frye and Cheuk will collaborate with the club to study the benefits of participation in a student-led mutual support network for teachers of color at a predominantly white institution (PWI) across three distinct phases of the teacher education pipeline: undergraduates, pre-service credential students and early-career teachers.

Through the grant, members of the Educators of Color club will serve as “participant researchers,” where they participate in the club’s activities while also researching how club members support each other in academic, social, cultural and emotional domains. They will learn foundational social sciences research skills, such as interviewing, leading focus groups and organizing and analyzing qualitative data. The students will also work closely with Frye and Cheuk in preparing annual reports, conference presentations and research articles.

“We hope this project’s findings will be helpful for teacher preparation programs, higher education student counseling and advising, and district- and school-level decision-making around supporting educators of color,” Frye said. “It contributes to theory in explaining how co-construction of a ‘third space,’ a place where people come together as a community, can support the development of teachers of color.”

Mara A. Reyes, a multiple subject credential candidate in the School of Education and a club member, said she hopes the project will support club members facing barriers such as building their resume and preparing and paying for the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET).

“The majority of our club members are first-generation students, and assistance navigating these kinds of things are very helpful for us,” she said.

A student member of the Educators of Color club gives a gift to a young girl during a holiday book and gift drive.
Gloria Sevilla, a current Special Education Specialist credential candidate, gives a gift to a young girl during the holiday book and gift drive in collaboration with Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) in Santa Maria.

Manuela Cruz, president of the Educators of Color club and a multiple subject credential candidate in the School of Education, said she hopes the project will help create more opportunities and support for students of color.

“Having support from Dr. Cheuk and Dr. Frye has made a huge difference in how I navigate being a student at Cal Poly,”Cruz said. “I hope that, in working together, we can reach even more students who wish to pursue a career in education -- both at Cal Poly and in the community.”

She added, “Being part of this club has given me a voice as a Cal Poly student that I don’t think I would have had otherwise. It’s my hope that we can give this opportunity to even more students on our campus in the future.”

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