Grow Your Own Teacher Graduation

Grow Your Own Teacher Graduation

From WIFR Rockford:

ROCKFORD (WIFR) – Some Rockford moms are getting a second chance at living their dream by educating our kids.

Three Rockford natives are now teachers through Rock Valley College’s “Grow Your Own Teachers” Program. The program is geared toward working adults with families who’ve always dreamed of teaching our kids. This is the second graduating class from RVC’s program. The graduates will soon work for District 205 as either elementary or middle school science teachers.

“I would definitely say there were a lot of times where I wanted to throw in the towel, but I just kept striving through and had very good support between Grow Your Own and just kept going,” says graduate Kelly Kloster.

The “Grow Your Own” program plans to start a dual enrollment program with District 205 for high school students who want to become teachers.

Last Updated (Friday, 08 May 2015 01:26)


Investing in homegrown teachers has long-term payoff

From Crain's Chicago Business:


If there's a sweet spot for a Chicago Public Schools principal, I'm living it. For two years, I've had the good fortune to lead a predominantly Latino elementary school in Humboldt Park, the neighborhood where I grew up and that I have called home for much of my life.

Students and families here know me. They know that I won't dismiss their perspectives or circumstances. They recognize that I am committed to safety and educational success.

As principal, I decided early on to invest in educators who are able to immediately connect with my students. When I was a principal-in-training, I noticed certain teachers stood out. They were able to quickly relate to families and enlist them as partners in educating children. They had high expectations and relevant lessons for students. And their students often outperformed others.

These teachers were graduates of Grow Your Own Teachers, a statewide program that recruits diverse candidates from low-income urban and rural areas and prepares them to teach in public schools. When I landed at my school—where more than 91 percent of students are Latino—I inherited a few GYO teachers and I hired a couple more. These are passionate, dedicated and culturally competent Latina teachers who drive improvements in academic outcomes. The paradigm shift that occurs when students can see themselves in their teachers has lifelong impact and helps to positively mold communities.

GYO teachers tend to stay. Many of them grew up or live in the neighborhoods where they teach; some have experience working at their schools. Only one of my four GYO teachers has left. By contrast, more than half of the teachers in Humboldt Park schools left their schools, according to an analysis of 2008-12 data by Catalyst Chicago.


Yet despite the competitive advantage GYO teachers provide schools, the program is on the chopping block, one of several programs that help racially and economically diverse students earn college degrees and enter professions that have been targeted by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Student diversity is rising across Illinois; it's no longer just an issue for Chicago and its suburbs.

Instead of writing it off, state lawmakers must give GYO the resources it needs to create a solid pipeline of highly effective teachers of color. Recently, the New York Times identified teacher diversity and low retention of minority teachers as critical policy issues across the country. GYO addresses both, yet in recent years only $1.5 million was allocated, about half of what the program needs for full operation and a pittance in the state's overall $91 billion budget.

Districts even save hiring costs when GYO teachers help lower turnover rates. Estimated at $20,000 per hire, that's already a couple of million dollars saved, and more to come once those in the pipeline graduate and land teaching jobs.

Critics of the program point to those who don't finish and drop out. Yet GYO stacks up favorably against other higher education programs that work with older students who are returning or have never attended college.

It's time for Illinois to invest in growing the kind of teachers that we all want. Take it from a homegrown principal whose path to an education career included returning to college as an adult: Illinois needs more homegrown teachers.

Jimmy A. Lugo is principal of Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School.

Last Updated (Friday, 08 May 2015 01:35)


‘Let me be an example’

Originally featured at neiu.edu:

Rachel Hall’s story could be one of sadness and tragedy.

She endured a troubled childhood in Columbus, Ohio. She’s been a homeless mother. And in 2005, three weeks after her husband died, her mother passed away too.

Hall has every reason to be a story of sadness and tragedy, but she refuses.

“I have no regrets,” she said. “I’m supposed to be here.”

“Here” is Northeastern Illinois University, where in 2012 Hall reinvented her life to study elementary education. Now age 49, she is two years away from earning her degree. Eventually, she wants to earn a Ph.D. and teach the next generation of teachers, particularly in minority communities.

“We need to empower African-American youths to do everything,” she said. “You can become a teacher, you can do robotics. If children are empowered and educated, they make better decisions.”

Hall already got a taste of that mission over the summer, when she worked with Northeastern’s Grow Your Own Teachers program as part of an Alumni Association Student Internship/Scholarship, one of four scholarships she’s earned through the University in the past year alone.

“I hope my story will encourage others,” Hall said. “If I can’t be anything else, let me be an example that you can do this.”

Hall’s instructors have taken notice—and not just because she sits in the front of every class.

“I admire how Rachel has overcome some serious obstacles in pursuing her education,” associate professor Durene Wheeler said. “As a nontraditional student, she is a great role model for how determination and purpose can take you far when the odds are stacked against you.”

Last Updated (Friday, 06 February 2015 01:03)


Growing your own teachers worth the wait

Featured at catalyst-chicago.org

During the 12 years that I attended CPS, I encountered very few minority teachers and no teachers with a Mexican background like me. I always wished for one. I felt that a teacher who shared my background would understand my heritage and would inspire me. Now, I can be that teacher who has a positive influence on the children I teach.

By: Idalia Vasquez / February 4, 2015

Grow Your Own Teachers helps low-income people of color who have the desire to become teachers earn a bachelor’s degree in Education—a goal that would otherwise be almost impossible for them to achieve. Yet a recent news article falls short by viewing the program as a conveyor belt, and failing to capture what I and many other graduates felt by becoming the first person in our family to graduate from a university and get a job as a CPS teacher.

It also fails to capture how important it is for children in my classroom to have a teacher who looks like them and who shares their life experience. (“Illinois falls short in $20 million effort to develop 1,000 teachers,” Jan. 16, Chicago Tribune.)

I am a Hispanic female, born to Mexican immigrant, working parents.  I was born and raised in Chicago, one of five siblings.  I attended four different CPS elementary schools and, given the bad timing of my parents’ divorce, graduated with a very low GPA from a low-performing, low-income high school on the Northwest Side.  I can count on one hand how many of my fellow high school graduates went on to complete a bachelor’s degree.  With a lot of struggle, I earned an associate’s degree from a community college, and at the age of 19, seven months before receiving that degree, I gave birth to my first child.

While growing up, my parents constantly reminded me of the hardships and poverty they endured in their small village in Guerrero, Mexico.  My mom is the oldest of eight siblings and completed school through 6th grade. My father had to help my grandfather work the land and attended school only up to 3rd grade.  My parents would always tell me and my siblings how important it was for us to take advantage of the opportunities of this great country.  Unfortunately, I was missing two of the most important factors that impact college attendance:  financial support and, most importantly, informed guidance.  I knew I was going to graduate from a university one day but I had no idea how to make that a reality.

Crucial support to overcome hurdles

That’s where Grow Your Own Teachers comes into play.  By the age of 31, I had gone back to school at Northeastern Illinois University.  I was a part-time student and a stay-at-home mother of two, studying for a degree in elementary education. But it was a constant struggle, especially when it came to math. Pre-algebra, for instance, was one of three math courses that I had to pass before I was eligible to take college math--but it would not earn me any credits toward graduation. I also struggled to pay for books since my loan did not cover them and my husband’s income was barely enough to cover the family expenses.

That same year, I was a parent volunteer at my son’s CPS preschool. An assistant preschool teacher there told me about a program called Grow Your Own Teachers that could help me. The program was for parent volunteers and school paraprofessionals who wanted to get a degree in elementary education at Northeastern Illinois, where I was already enrolled.  I applied and got in.

I became a full-time student, attending year-round.  During the summer, I took four classes—the maximum number of classes allowed.  That was difficult because my husband worked and my children were out of school.  On some occasions, my children would wait for me outside of my classroom in the study area.  The professor knew I was a mom and did not object to my frequent breaks to check on my children. Other times, Grow Your Own Teachers provided child care and I was able to focus in the classroom.

Another hurdle was passing the Basic Skills Test.  Now known as TAP or the Test of Academic Proficiency, it is one of three state tests that teachers have to pass before they can earn a teaching license.  Grow Your Own Teachers provided me with a math tutor and test workshops.  I finally passed the five-hour test on the second try.

Those were just a few of the many hurdles that Grow Your Own Teachers helped me to overcome.

After three and a half years, I graduated with honors from Northeastern Illinois University. One of the best moments in my life was having my mom watch me walk across the stage to receive my degree.

Understanding heritage, inspiring students

Today, I am proud to say that I am a kindergarten teacher at a low-income CPS school.  Every day I go to my classroom ready to inspire my students.  Most of them are amazed that my background is similar to theirs. For example, no one in our families has a college degree, our parents do not speak English and they were born in another country. The children get a kick out of the fact that I also secretly ate hot Cheetos for breakfast when I was young because my parents left early for work and they didn’t have time to make breakfast.

During the 12 years that I attended CPS, I encountered very few minority teachers and no teachers with a Mexican background like me.  I always wished for one. I felt that a teacher who shared my background would understand my heritage and would inspire me.  Now, I can be that teacher who has a positive influence on the children I teach. Our common background provides me with tools and references that facilitate making connections. The other day, I read Gary Soto’s “Too Many Tamales” to my students and they were excited to learn that my family also makes tamales for Christmas.

The hurdles that I had to overcome to earn my degree were few compared to my fellow Grow Your Own members.  Some of them are working full-time or part-time and have been in the program and attending classes part-time for more than five years.  One woman told me how she had to leave school temporarily to take care of a sick, elderly parent.  Some have to cut back on their own studies so they can earn extra money to pay tuition for children who are starting college.  I admire their resilience. Most participants stick with the program, working and studying hard and knowing that they will achieve their goal one day.  To them I say, “Keep trying, because earning a college degree is worth it.”

So many people around me now see me as a role model—my children, my family, my fellow Grow Your Own members, my students, my students’ parents, my para-professional colleagues.  I am only one of the many graduates who can inspire others like me.

It reminds me of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.”

Idalia Vasquez is a 2013 graduate of the Grow Your Own program and a CPS teacher.


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Last Updated (Saturday, 26 April 2014 02:55)


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