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Bilingual Teacher Academy students serve as Promise Academy pre-service teachers

This summer, eight high school students got their first taste of teaching in the district’s annual Promise Academy, a summer session for preschool to grade 5 students. Promise Academy supports students academically every summer with writing and reading activities. Bringing these high school students into the summer classrooms as support for the program was a perfect collaboration of the two initiatives: Promise Academy and our new Bilingual Teacher Academy.

Offered at both Bellingham and Squalicum high schools this school year, the Bilingual Teacher Academy is a year-long course in Bellingham Public Schools designed to prepare and mentor bilingual, diverse students for careers in education in Washington state. The class grew out of the Recruiting Washington Teachers Program that is laid out in RCW 28A.415.370. The law supports “a targeted recruitment of diverse students” and a curriculum that “provides future teachers with opportunities to observe classroom instruction at all grade levels.” Click here for more on the Recruiting Washington Teachers (RWT) program.

The high school students who served as Promise Academy pre-service teachers this summer were seniors Irene Cruz, Rolando Gonzalez, Marcos Herrera, Nayeli Rosas and Ivon Sanchez-Pineda; juniors Jenni Landeros and Cristian Rodriguez-Perez; and sophomore Yaritizi Villa.

The students earned a stipend of $150 from the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation for 15 hours of time, but the majority of them spent more than 40 hours helping in the Promise Academy.

According to Sarah Walker, Promise Academy’s 2018 principal, the high school students “contributed to each class in the program.”

“From walking students down the hall and playing games at recess to reading with students and communicating with adult staff,” Walker said. “Our summer program would not have been the same without these extraordinary high school leaders.”

Bethany Barrett, director of Teaching and Learning and district leader for the English Language Learner program, said that the mission of the Bilingual Teacher Academy course is to recruit under-represented students into the teaching profession.

“As a district, we recognize that our teacher workforce should reflect our student body,” Barrett said. “We want to raise up educators who are responsive to the students they teach because if they connect and identify with communities, they are more deeply invested in making a difference.”

Students in the Bilingual Teacher Academy course also get a chance to explore their cultural identity as well as research educational opportunities through the lens of being a teacher. With strong connections to programs at Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University, the program hopes to encourage these students into higher education programs that will lead to a teaching career. Students receive intentional support to reduce the barriers and manage the many steps to move into the profession.

“There are so many places where students get lost and discouraged along the way to becoming a teacher,” Barrett said. “The Bilingual Teacher Academy course has, at its core, a dedication to creating a safety net and cradling these students through the transitions, handing them off carefully and strategically to others who can support them, advocate for them and show them the way.”

One of the core beliefs of The Bellingham Promise is that diversity enhances a strong and healthy community.  This high school course is an example of how a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion can foster successful outcomes and prepare the next generation of great teachers.

“This is a tangible commitment we are making to our linguistically and culturally diverse high school students,” Barrett said. “As well as those who have been traditionally under-represented. We believe in them and want to help them grow the gifts they have to give the world. Our community needs what they have to offer.”

Squalicum High currently has 25 students in their bilingual educator class and Bellingham High has 10 students enrolled in a combined class of 16 with Careers in Education.

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