July 27, 2020
Laura Delgado, Program Director of Pionero Scholars for Lipscomb University’s College of Education
What is your organization’s mission, and how does it support Tennessee’s kids?
The Pionero Scholars program is a grow-your-own pipeline seeking to recognize the brilliance and potential of area students to become educators. Our program selects Metro Nashville graduates to award a scholarship to major in Education at Lipscomb, with the goal that they return to teach in their own communities. We believe that the answer to the scarcity of teachers lies within our own communities and our own K-12 schools. We think that educators homegrown from MNPS will share the backgrounds of their students, understand the strengths of their communities, and be deeply committed to the school because they will be teaching their own cousins and neighbors.
What desired impact does your organization have for its community? How does that impact influence your organization’s goals?
We aim to increase the diversity of teachers serving in Metro, and to open opportunities in particular for students who come from first-generation, low-income, and/or underrepresented backgrounds. We recognize that there are financial and informational barriers to becoming a teacher that prevent many brilliant students from pursuing the pathway. Metro Nashville has a wonderful diversity of cultures and languages in its schools, and we believe that addressing the lack of teachers requires a long-term solution – one that lies within our own classrooms. We directly combat the college melt phenomenon and are generally committed to supporting MNPS high schools with college access and success initiatives. We know that we may select scholarship recipients who later decide they want to pursue a different career – to us what is most important is helping more students from Metro pursue and complete a college degree.
How can those interested get involved in the work you’re doing?
Through a broader lens, to answer this question, everyone has a role to play in teacher diversity! In your communities and children’s schools, you can ask principals about the diversity of the teaching staff and what efforts are being made to increase it. All children need diverse teachers, regardless of the racial makeup of a school. You can ask your School Board what efforts they are putting in towards teacher diversity and ask them to commit to sharing district data on teacher diversity annually (data has only recently become more transparent and we still have a long way to go in terms of collecting quality data on teachers!). You can also encourage your district to start a program to encourage high school students to become teachers – a teacher cadet corps or a branch of Educators Rising and volunteer your time to help get it launched. Ask questions regularly about the diversity of the students participating, the mentors supporting them, and the topics they address. Increasing the diversity of the teaching profession often involves working with first-generation candidates and those from low-income backgrounds, and financial barriers are some of the most significant that candidates face. You can contribute to scholarship funds for first-generation candidates and candidates of color at the nearest teacher preparation program. Many paraprofessionals (hourly employees often helping in Special Education in schools) go to school at night to become licensed teachers, which can cost up to $15,000 in Tennessee, so you could also inquire with the principal in your neighborhood about creating a scholarship for a paraprofessional.
If you’d like to specifically help with Pionero Scholars, our first five graduates take on their own classrooms this fall in Nashville. We would love help setting up classrooms or adopting a classroom to volunteer/support a first-year teacher through your various talents! We have two elementary classrooms, two middle school classrooms, and one high school classroom (this last one launching in December). In general, we are always looking for area educators of color to serve as mentors for our students, and for caring adults who are willing to help invest in our students along the way, either with supplies, food at group professional development sessions, or connecting us with inspirational speakers. As the proverb says, “if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together,” so we appreciate all those willing to walk this path with us.
Get more information on the Pionero Scholars Program at Lipscomb here.