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A project to increase the number of minority students pursuing a career in K-12 education is about to be launched in the spring by Southern and a consortium of school superintendents in the region.

The Minority Educator Initiative – a brainchild of Stephen Hegedus, dean of the SCSU School of Education – will include setting aside a significant number of scholarships to minority students who are accepted into one of the university’s education preparation programs (undergraduate and graduate). Acceptance for undergraduates typically is determined at the conclusion of the sophomore year at Southern.

The initiative also will include mentorship programs – such as between SCSU education majors with high school students who are considering a career in teaching; between existing K-12 teachers with SCSU students; and between school district leaders, such as the Connecticut Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, with SCSU students.

“Research shows us that students of color tend to learn more effectively when they have had teachers and administrators who are from similar racial, ethnic and demographic backgrounds,” Hegedus said. “But in Connecticut, and throughout the nation, we have a shortage of minority educators. In fact, is can be challenging to attract educators, in general, to urban school districts.”

While the percentage of minority students in Connecticut’s public schools crossed the 41 percent mark in 2012, only about 7 percent of the state’s public school teachers at that time were black, Hispanic or Asian, according to statistics from the state Department of Education.

“This initiative is designed to encourage more black, Latino and Asian students to pursue a career in education,” Hegedus said. “By partnering with area school districts, we believe we can make significant strides toward accomplishing that goal.”

The consortium of superintendents includes Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

“Just about every adult member of a minority group who has previously succeeded in public education can identify at least one minority educator who served as a role model,” Cirasuolo said. “If you are a child who is a member of a minority group, you need to have direct experience with educators from the same minority group if you are to know fully the possibilities to which you can aspire.”

But Cirasuolo said there are benefits to white children having experience with minority educators, as well. He said the experience can provide “a fire wall against the forces of institutional racism that can infect people who are otherwise good and decent.”

“In other words, if a white child never gets to meet and interact with minority educators, that child can fall victim to the stereotypes that too often are promulgated about members of minority groups,” Cirasuolo said.

The program has the support of the state Department of Education.

“In Connecticut, we believe that all students, regardless of their own racial and ethnic identity, benefit from a teaching core that represents our diverse society,” said state Commissioner of Education Dianna R. Wentzell.

“Programs like the Minority Educator Initiative at Southern Connecticut State University serve as critical tools for encouraging more minority students to consider pursuing a career in teaching. I applaud this effort and look forward to the conversations ahead around minority teacher recruitment and retention in our schools.”

Hegedus said the scholarships are being made possible through an endowed gift of $2.2 million from the late Carol Ann Shea, an alumna who served as an SCSU faculty member for 32 years. The gift will enable the School of Education to offer about three dozen scholarships per year of $2,500 each.

“The scholarships will not be limited to minority students, and in fact, will be given for multiple purposes – including for those studying abroad,” Hegedus said. “The scholarships will be awarded on a basis of both need and merit. But one of the purposes will be to encourage students of color to pursue degrees in education.”

He said plans call for the first scholarships to be allocated in the spring.