A Teaching Fellow works with students during Woodville Unified School District's summer CTFF program. Photo contribute
Written by Ravyn Cullor
As K-12 students go back to school, a nonprofit organization is hiring hundreds of college students to staff after-school programs and potentially get their foot in the education door.
The California Teaching Fellows Foundation announced in May it was looking to hire upwards of 500 college students, most of whom would be working in afterschool programs around the Valley, said Mike Snell, CEO of CTFF.
The program usually has around 2,000 teaching fellows across more than 300 schools in over 50 districts. It originally started in 1999 as part of Fresno State’s Kremen School of Education and Human Development, but became an independent nonprofit in 2006.
“One of our main interests is to help local school districts to build a pipeline of future teachers and educators,” Snell said. “School districts identified programs they want to work to build, so the majority of our funding is for college students to work in afterschool programs that provide tutoring, mentorship, physical education and other services like social and emotional support.”
According to the Learning Policy Institute, many California school districts, particularly small, rural school districts, are struggling to find and hire enough fully credentialed teachers.
They also found that teacher pipelines improve districts’ ability to recruit new teachers, and some districts even found those programs help them recruit more teachers of color.
Current CTFF teaching fellow Jessica Hernandez is in her sixth year with the program and said she was working in retail when a friend talked about his participation in the program.
“When I first thought about a career in education I was on edge because I had never worked with children before, so I wasn’t sure it was the right career choice for me,” Hernandez said. “But getting the experience with the elementary students has made me realize that this is where I belong.”
Donato Mireles, former teaching fellow and current math teacher at Sanger Unified, as well as the board chair for CTFF, said while working a traditional college job, like retail or fast food, is still honest work, the fellowship allowed him and other students to get experience in their field before graduating.
While CTFF puts college students into K-12 classrooms, Snell said they also provide paid professional development and personal coaching so their fellows can get a holistic education in the teaching field. Along with paying most fellows over minimum wage, Snell said they try to make the program accessible, functional and useful for college students.
Mireles said, unlike a traditional student teaching path, he spent time every day in a school, working with students and developing skills — for four years of his undergraduate degree. The ability to connect with students on a personal level is a skill he said he learned as a fellow and still uses today.
“The most important part of being a teaching fellow was I was getting the work experience, I was getting the training, before I even stepped foot in a school as a teaching professional on day one at my job,” Mireles said.
Outside of the benefits for the fellows, Snell said the goal of CTFF is to serve K-12 students. He said those students get to see young adults, often from the same places they’re from, as role models and real examples of the next step in their lives.
According to the National Conference of State Legislature, research has shown after school programs have a myriad of benefits including decreasing dropout rates, closing achievement gaps for low-income students and reducing risky behavior for older students, among others.
Snell said the fellowship program has also helped increase diverse representation in classrooms, making it more likely that K-12 students will get to see someone who looks like them in teaching and pursuing higher education
Hernandez said the afterschool programs provide kids with an enrichment program they’re interested in, as well as somewhere safe to spend time while parents are working and do their homework with someone who can help.
She said she sees students whose parents aren’t able to help with homework due to a language barrier. The after school programs provide those students with a homework resource they might not have been able to get at home.
To qualify for the program, one must be an actively registered college student taking credits with availability during mornings or afternoons during the week, Snell said.