College Expands and Strengthens Urban Teaching Program

 College Expands and Strengthens Urban Teaching Program

08/28/2017 

For almost 20 years, SUNY Cortland has made a specialty out of preparing its students to teach in high-need city schools, primarily through Cortland’s Urban Recruitment of Educators (C.U.R.E.) program.

This fall, the number of students participating in C.U.R.E. – which offers a combination of tuition support, academic preparation, mentoring and follow-up – has grown by 50 percent, thanks to a $127,458 grant from New York state.

C.U.R.E., which has educated many teachers who themselves graduated from impoverished districts or are part of underrepresented ethnic groups, has 45 students who began classes Monday.  

The expansion was made possible by a new state Education Department program, called My Brother’s Keeper Teacher Opportunity Corps (TOC). SUNY Cortland’s TOC grant, which will also help fund significant enhancements to C.U.R.E., was part of $3 million allocated for TOC in the 2017-18 New York State budget.

The College potentially will receive five years of renewed TOC grant money for a total of almost $650,000.

It’s the first significant state funding for the C.U.R.E program since the Great Recession of 2007 swept away similar state resources. It comes amid estimates by SUNY that the state may need as many as 180,000 new teachers over the next decade.

The grant represents a rethinking and extension of the C.U.R.E Program. C.U.R.E., created in 1998 under the sponsorship of SUNY Cortland President Judson H. Taylor and supported by current President Erik J. Bitterbaum, has a record of success in educating teachers from African American, Latino, Native American and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The award is an important one as it will allow us to expand our program to support more underrepresented students to gain access to the teaching profession,” said Andrea Lachance, dean of the School of Education.

“There is a lot of evidence that good teachers have a huge impact on kids, especially the ones who face major opportunity gaps,” Lachance said. “By encouraging more students of color to go into teaching, we can make a difference.”

SUNY Cortland’s TOC-augmented program aims to reach high school youth who might never have considered the teaching profession.

“I think it signals a swing back toward seeing teaching as making a real difference in the lives of people,” said Anne Burns Thomas, an associate professor of foundations and social advocacy at SUNY Cortland and coordinator of the C.U.R.E. Program. “One of the things we have heard from our students was they were interested in having an impact in their schools in the way a teacher influenced them in their past.”

SUNY Cortland’s TOC Program builds upon and expands activities already offered through C.U.R.E., such as early field experiences in partner schools in Syracuse, a learning community that includes time in high-need schools, and extensive mentoring to support students’ academic and leadership success. C.U.R.E. participants already complete an additional 45 hours of fieldwork beyond what is required by other students enrolled in the School of Education.

“TOC funding will allow us to add more field experiences, such as a 10-month internship in an urban school, and increased mentoring from experienced educators of color,” Burns Thomas said.

The primary enticement for first-year students to enroll in the specialized teacher preparation program is a $4,000 scholarship covering more than half of annual tuition. The C.U.R.E. scholarship is renewed annually. In exchange, recipients commit to spend their first two working years in a high-needs school or repay their scholarship.

Among the planned program enhancements, the funding will be used to:

  • reimagine mentoring to include student pairings with practicing K-12 educators who are themselves members of underrepresented groups. The first group of 20 teacher-mentors with diverse cultural or ethnic backgrounds were recruited this summer from districts in Binghamton, Ithaca and Syracuse. Mentors will meet the C.U.R.E. student in groups and advise them individually.
  • increase efforts to recruit diverse first-year students from metropolitan high schools.
  • redesign and enhance selected courses and craft new courses taken by C.U.R.E. scholars to contain more fieldwork and civic engagement opportunities.
  • design new high school courses that can be used for beginning college credit in an education major. These will be developed to focus on teaching and learning and include a service learning component.

C.U.R.E. has an impressive 80 percent, four-year graduation rate, Lachance said. Ninety percent of C.U.R.E. graduates remain in the teaching profession for two years. Beyond that, 76 percent continued teaching in high-need urban schools.

C.U.R.E. also rates highly for the number of students who have excelled in academic and leadership awards.

Both the 20 TOC/C.U.R.E. scholarship recipients and the 25 regular C.U.R.E. participants will benefit from the enriched learning opportunities. These enhancements will naturally spill over to help advance any student enrolled in a teacher preparation track at SUNY Cortland who takes courses specialized for the TOC and C.U.R.E. students.

“The classes that I teach are normally small so I’ll just teach bigger classes,” Burns Thomas said. “The potential to grow is there and so it’s great to expand.”

The classes are Introduction to Urban Education, which includes a 30-hour field component; Race, Class and Gender in Schools; and Exploring Education with an Urban Focus, which has a 15-hour field component in urban schools.

Through the TOC funding, two courses will see enhancements, according to Burns Thomas. The Race, Class and Gender in Schools course will add a school-based service learning component. That course also will become part of a C.U.R.E. student’s first year learning community and will include an experience tutoring in a high-poverty school.

The Exploring Education with an Urban Focus will include increased hours as it will become one of the courses taken during the new 10-month Clinically Rich Experience. The course will include a semester-long experience at H.W. Smith K-8 School in Syracuse, according to Burns Thomas.

“We’re really hoping that some of the things that are the best practices in C.U.R.E. we can support institutionally because developing high quality teachers for urban settings is something we want to share across the College,” Lachance said. “So the program is open to any education major preparing to teach in an urban school.”

For students enrolled in teacher preparation tracks but not the C.U.R.E. program, the school offers an official transcript endorsement for those who used C.U.R.E. programing to learn how to teach in urban schools, Lachance noted.

C.U.R.E. operates on the theory that the scholarship money helps recruit smart kids from groups underrepresented in teaching. Many of these bright young people are first generation college students who might receive advice or feel internal pressure to choose a career that seems more lucrative than teaching, Burns Thomas said. 

“Tuition support reinforces the value that society places on teaching careers, making the choice of a major leading to teacher certification possible,” she said. 

“An ever-increasing body of research points to the need for more teachers from underrepresented groups who are qualified and prepared to teach students in underserved areas,” Burns Thomas said. “The TOC/C.U.R.E. Program will build on the success of the C.U.R.E. program to meet that need through research-based experience and best practices.”


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