Livingstone College encouraging Black teachers to enter profession through grants, lab school partnership

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 4, 2021

SALISBURY — Black educators are underrepresented in local schools, and Livingstone College is looking to help bridge that gap through grants and a new partnership.

Currently, about 18% of Rowan-Salisbury Schools students are Black, but just 9% of teachers are Black.

Livingstone, a historically Black college, is working to improve the disparity as one of several institutions working with Koontz Elementary’s lab school program. The program places education students as teacher apprentices who get the full experience. The students spend 10 months working 30 hours per week and get a $20,000 stipend. The apprentices also make a two-year commitment to Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

Livingstone is also offering a grant-in-kind to incentivize students to major in teacher education. That means their education is free after federal financial aid.

Melvin Stewart is Livingstone’s first student in the program. The football and track athlete said he connects well with kids and grew up around teachers, including his mom, aunt and cousin.

“I’ve been working with kids all my life at summer camps and other things,” Steward said. “The way I connect with kids makes it easier to teach them.”

Stewart’s goal is to teach fifth grade, and he said the apprenticeship is the biggest blessing he could have asked for.

“Every move I make at school is a learning opportunity,” Stewart said.

He gets constructive criticism from more experienced teachers and superiors at the school, and he uses it to help shape himself into the educator he wants to be. He said the experience has shown him what’s required to step into the classroom after he graduates.

“I’m in an environment where things aren’t as critical,” Stewart said. “I can work on my craft and I can mess up as long as I’m learning from it.”

Stewart said he likes fifth grade because it sets the tone for the rest of the school.

“To be able to affect these kids, give them the kind of guidance they need, help them to walk around and set an example for the rest of the school, makes my work more meaningful,” he said.

Koontz Principal Nicole Buckner said the program has gone well in its first year. There are 10 apprentices at the school this year, and the college is working with several institutions. Right now, the apprentices are from Livingstone, UNC-Charlotte and Catawba College.

“They get a more in-depth experience to provide them with the skills to be successful in their first year of teaching,” Buckner said.

Buckner said the school focuses on growing, coaching and modeling for the apprentices.

Koontz also has a program open for junior education majors with a smaller time commitment and stipend. Stewart is the only apprentice from Livingstone this year but the college will add more participants in coming semesters, including two juniors in the spring of 2022.

Tarsha Reid, interim dean of education, psychology and social work for Livingstone, pointed out Koontz is named for Elizabeth Duncan Koontz. Koontz was a civil rights leader, Salisbury native and graduate of Livingstone College who served as the first Black president of the National Education Association.