Teacher Pathway trains next generation of teachers A focus on bringing quality education to South Monterey County

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By Dennis Taylor

Recruiting qualified teachers to educate students in South Monterey County schools has long been a challenge for administrators, who have limited budgets and a unique cultural situation in a mostly agricultural region where English often is spoken only as a second language.

But Hartnell College and CSU Monterey Bay have collaborated to create a landmark program designed to address a severe and ongoing teacher shortage.

Teacher Pathway is an innovation designed to spawn an enthusiastic crop of young, homegrown teachers (kindergarten through eighth grade) for schools in Soledad, Gonzales, King City and Greenfield.

Schools in South County cities are heavily populated with Latino children, many of which are immigrants and first- or second-generation Americans. Their challenges and their culture can often be difficult to appreciate for teachers who have been imported from elsewhere — and those teachers sometimes have difficulty assimilating into the communities.

As a result, teachers are hard to recruit and harder to keep, particularly in a school district where salaries aren’t competitive with those paid by, for example, districts on the Monterey Peninsula or San Jose.

“Our philosophy is that teaching is the foundation career for all other careers,” said Jose Luis Alvarado, dean of the College of Education at CSU Monterey Bay and a co-creator of the Teacher Pathway program. “If we don’t have adequately trained teachers in our schools, students are going to struggle to be successful. As a state, and as a nation, we generally have a dire teacher shortage, and that shortage is more acute in low-income settings, both urban and rural.”

Teacher Pathway student Yvet Tarango.

The dearth of qualified teachers was made known to Alvarado when he arrived at CSUMB four years ago and met with local superintendents, who weren’t shy about laying some blame on local institutions of higher learning.

“They basically told me that we simply weren’t producing enough teachers … and that too many of the teachers we were preparing weren’t staying on the job,” he said.

Turns out, the superintendents were talking to the right guy. Alvarado’s previous stop was San Diego State University, where he had administered a Teacher Pathway program in Imperial County, an area of California bearing striking similarities to the Salinas Valley. Most notably, both are agricultural regions and heavily Spanish-speaking, and areas where teachers are difficult to recruit and keep.

“We had great success with our Teacher Pathway program at San Diego State, so I decided to try to replicate the model here,” Alvarado said.

What encouraged him immediately, Alvarado says, was the discovery that CSUMB and Hartnell had collaborated previously on a computer science program, creating a curriculum that enabled Hartnell students to transfer seamlessly into CSUMB’s baccalaureate program.

Another built-in plus, Alvarado discovered, was that Hartnell College already had a King City campus, a huge convenience for South County residents.

Meetings followed with CSUMB President Edward Ochoa and Hartnell President Willard Lewallen, and Hartnell administrators Celine Pinet (Dean of Academic Affairs at Hartnell) and Jackie Cruz (Vice President of Advancement), among others. All were on the same page, and a special cohort program was launched in 2016 for 27 Hartnell students — all South County residents. Twenty-four members of that class graduated from Hartnell in May and will begin taking classes as juniors from CSUMB educators this coming fall on the same King City campus.

A second cohort of 41 students was formed in 2017, and that group is expected to earn associates degrees from Hartnell at the end of this school year. And 31 students comprise the third and most-recent cohort that will begin at Hartnell in September, bringing the total number of students in the program to more than 100.

All of the students are on partial scholarship, receiving a modest stipend to help with the cost of books and transportation. All are full-time students (a requirement for the scholarship). Ninety percent are Latino, all are South County residents, most are products of South County schools, and about 25 percent are “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and went to school here.

Most of the students also are working either full-time or part-time, in addition to carrying a full load of classes. Some are parents.

The model provides that all students in a cohort take the same classes at the same time throughout their undergraduate education — two years at Hartnell, two at CSUMB, and one more to earn a teaching credential.

The effects of the cohort model are multi-pronged, beginning with the fact that students are better able to build supportive relationships among their peers through the years. Also, because the class size has basically been predetermined, students are assured that the classes they need will be offered in a timely and structured manner. As members of the cohort, their chair in those classes is guaranteed.

There’s also significant support around each cohort in the form of dedicated counselors, advisors, and tutors, many of whom are South County educators, themselves.

“When you and I went to college, we were mostly on our own. We didn’t necessarily have that support from people who know how to navigate the education system,” said Pinet, who was educated in Canada, and learned English as a second language after entering college. “The support of the counselor helps pull our cohort students through difficult situations, like, for example, homework they don’t quite understand.”

Money to launch the program, pay for the scholarships, and provide every student with an iPad (which they keep upon graduation) has been provided by The Claire Giannini Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports pre-selected programs, conducted by public charities or governmental entities, which promote the health and well-being of people under 18.

“But the Giannini Fund is now in spend-down mode,” Alvarado said. “We’ll have their help this coming year and the next -— and then we’ll have to find another source of funding.”

Deanne Perez-Granados, an associate professor and department chair in Liberal Studies at CSUMB, says the positive relationship between CSUMB and Hartnell has been the secret ingredient in the success of the Teacher Pathway program so far.

“I think that’s what’s unique: We have such strong collaboration and enthusiasm from both institutions. Everybody at both Hartnell and CSUMB is 100 percent behind this program. They want these students to succeed,” Granados said. “That makes it easy for me to do my job, because I know I’ve got backing.”

The expectation, based on the success of similar models at other colleges and universities, is that South County students will benefit greatly.

“All of the research shows that grow-your-own programs are highly effective,” Alvarado said. “Our local school districts have been struggling to recruit and hire fully credentialed teachers each year. Oftentimes, they wind up hiring teachers who are provisionally credentialed. They meet minimum requirements, like having a bachelor’s degree and passing a basic skills test, but they’ve had no real training as a teacher before they’re assigned to a classroom.”

The Hartnell-CSUMB Teacher Pathway also was built with “on ramps,” Alvarado said, welcoming students into the program who already have a year of elementary education under their belts, or an associates degree.

“The objective is to create good teachers for our community — teachers who already understand and respect the culture of the community,” Pinet said. “The idea is that home-grown teachers — teachers who already live in those communities, and probably grew up there — won’t take a job in the district, then leave a year later.”

Alvarado said CSUMB is currently looking to replicate the Teacher Pathway model with Cabrillo College to better serve North Monterey County and Santa Cruz school districts.

Additional information can be found online at www.hartnell.edu/teach or https://csumb.edu/liberalstudies/teacher-pathway-program.

Dennis Taylor is a freelance writer in Monterey County. Contact him at scribelaureate@gmail.com.

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