Collaboration that Supports STEM Educators in High Poverty Schools Receives Community Engagement Scholarship Award

  • Gail Richmond, Ph.D.
  • Associate Professor, Department of Teacher Education
  • College of Education
From left to right: Alycia Meriweather, Detroit Public Schools; Gail Richmond, Dept. of Teacher Education, College of Education, Michigan State University; and Tom Bordenkircher, Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

Gail Richmond and the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) are co-recipients of the 2015 Community Engagement Scholarship Award bestowed during the annual MSU Awards Convocation on February 10.

Richmond serves as the project director of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Woodrow Wilson STEM Teaching Fellowship Program at MSU. The program focuses on recruiting, training, placing, and supporting new STEM teachers in under-resourced, high-poverty schools in urban and rural communities such as Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Jackson, Flint, and Escanaba. Richmond has built a partnership that works with the teachers as well as building and district administrators to create and sustain a supportive community, while also mentoring, encouraging, and inspiring early teachers to remain in the classroom.

"There is a lot coming at them at once," said Richmond. "These emerging teachers are in impoverished schools defined by socio-economic statistics such as the percentage of students who qualify to receive free or reduced-cost lunches. They are putting forth tremendous energy to engage and motivate students to get interested in math and science. And they often feel isolated and minimally supported, for a variety of reasons, both structural and social. They are just beginning their careers, and they have some particularly stressful and significant challenges during that initial period."

According to Richmond, approximately 40 percent of early teachers exit the profession within their first three years in the classroom, and this number increases to almost 70 percent in high-poverty schools.

"The lack of teacher stability affects students, too. The inability to count on a teacher completing a year or returning for another year has a significant impact on the ability of young people to trust those responsible for their learning, and this can lead to a lack of willingness to engage with classroom-based opportunities," said Richmond. School administrators also are affected by low teacher retention rates, as the ongoing "revolving-door" of staff makes it incredibly difficult to create and sustain a productive school community and environment.

"Detroit Public Schools and Michigan State University care deeply about urban education, and I would not be the teacher I am today without them."

Zachary Sweet
Renaissance High School
Detroit, Michigan

Collaboration with Detroit Public Schools

Alycia Meriweather is executive director of the Office of Science for the Detroit Public Schools (DPS), and director of the Detroit Mathematics and Science Center. She represented DPS at the MSU Awards Convocation, accepting the Community Engagement Scholarship Award alongside Richmond.

"I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Richmond since 2010. Through multiple planning sessions and collaborative meetings with the other three universities working with Detroit Public Schools (Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University), we have been able to develop a solid relationship and evolve the partnership over time," said Meriweather.

Richmond maintains a busy pace, pulling together a constellation of details. She creates opportunities for the Fellows to experience Detroit sites and activities so they can gain awareness of the breadth and scope of working in an urban setting and come to understand the resources that exist in the community and that can support their teaching. She connects Fellows with mentors, who serve in an ongoing way as valuable resources for all aspects of teaching, as well guides for their continued professional development. Richmond also assists with planning as well as implementing on-site professional development sessions for both Fellows and mentors.

Strong Support for STEM Teacher Recruitment and Preparation

One of the primary goals of the fellowship program is to attract outstanding individuals who are committed to teaching STEM-related subjects in high-poverty middle schools and high schools across Michigan.

Fellows in the program are given many opportunities to strengthen their knowledge of content for teaching, while gaining an appreciation for diverse settings in a cohort-format learning environment. The 15-month program includes summer courses on content and teaching methods, on educational equity and access, and on learning and development, anchored in a full-year teaching internship placement in a high-need school. Teaching certifications are offered in mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and physical science.

Cohort members represent diverse cultural, racial, and educational backgrounds, with some participants recently completing undergraduate degrees in science while others have received advanced degrees and have worked in a variety of professional settings. Their common thread is their commitment to and enthusiasm for teaching students about STEM subjects in settings that have a pressing need for more stable and high-quality math and science learning opportunities.

Zachary Sweet attended school in an underperforming district in Ohio, with a ranking of 720 out of 881 districts. He entered the Fellows Program after earning a B.S. in math and a B.A. in German from Ohio State University. Sweet had teaching certifications in both subjects, and knew that math was one of his biggest passions.

"I want my students to have excellent experiences learning mathematics," Sweet said. "Learning math should feel exciting and addicting to all learners."

Sweet completed a year-long teaching internship at Detroit Public School's Marcus Garvey Academy, and he is now a teacher at Renaissance High School. "The collaboration between DPS and MSU is one of the largest contributors to who I am as a math educator. Because of this partnership I was able to have a year of hands-on learning before having my own classroom. Detroit Public Schools and Michigan State University care deeply about urban education, and I would not be the teacher I am today without them," he said.

The Teaching Fellows Program started in 2010 with a $770,000 grant by the W.K. Kellogg and Woodrow Wilson Foundations. In 2013 the National Science Foundation awarded $2.8 million to expand the work in high-poverty schools around the U.S. until 2020. Richmond is the Principal Investigator, and serves as the director of the resulting program, MSU SETS-UP (Supporting Early-Career Teachers of Science through Urban Partnerships). The grant includes collaborative involvement with practicing scientists and community-based partners who agree to act as a resource for these emerging teachers.

How do you Keep STEM Teachers in the Classroom?

The partnership has developed over time and has generated new ideas for Richmond. Recognizing that recruitment and preparation were not enough, her work with MSU SETS-UP poses three critical challenges:

  1. Identify factors that shape core teaching practices.
  2. Establish the foundation for teacher resilience.
  3. Provide technology induction support for teachers in challenging settings.

Richmond is exploring the new frontier offered by technology advances. She envisions how different media and platforms can assist with observation, participation, dialogue, and other learning opportunities for teachers, including those who are in challenging settings located at great distances from strong centers of support.

Community Engagement Scholarship Award

MSU's Community Engagement Scholarship Award is conferred annually and provides University-wide recognition of highly engaged community-based research collaborations that positively impact both the community and the scholarship of MSU faculty.

Richmond and the partnership will also represent Michigan State University in the 2015 competition for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Awards and the national C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award, sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Engagement Scholarship Consortium.

  • Written by Carla Hills, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photograph by Derrick Turner, MSU Communications and Brand Strategy

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