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State scholarship program aids future minority teachers



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Carolina Diaz

Sixth-grader Carolina Diaz did not feel like her Hispanic roots made her a minority within the diverse collection of students at her Miami Beach elementary school. Instead, it was her limited grasp of English that made her feel like an outsider.

Things changed when her teacher, a young Jamaican woman, told Diaz that she saw something special in her; Diaz could work as well as other native English speakers, her teacher told her. This minority teacher’s confidence in Diaz was enough to inspire the sixth grader to become a teacher when she grew up.

“I do believe it made a difference for my teacher to be a minority because she made me feel more comfortable,” Diaz said. “As a young student coming from a vibrant Latin culture, white American teachers at times appeared to me as impersonal.”

Years later, Diaz received the Minority Teacher Education Scholarship from the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers (FFMT) to study elementary education at the University of Florida. She received her master’s degree in elementary education and now teaches at UF’s English Language Institute.

Since 1996, the statewide FFMT program, headquartered at UF’s College of Education, has been providing scholarships helping thousands of minority college students pursue dreams of receiving a teaching degree.

FFMT offers a $4,000-a-year Minority Teacher Education Scholarship over two or three years. Incoming juniors of African American, black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaskan Native descent are eligible. Recipients must be enrolled in one of 37 approved teacher education programs in Florida.

Yet for most FFMT scholars, the scholarship offers much more than financial assistance.

“FFMT has made me feel valued,” Diaz said. “The program is supporting diversity because it recognizes that most teachers in the United States are statistically white, middle-class women and FFMT is doing something to change that. It’s not just a statistic that goes unsolved.”

FFMT scholars are required to commit two or three years, depending on the length of their scholarship, to teach in a Florida public school after receiving their degree. If this requirement is not fulfilled, they must repay the scholarship amount to FFMT.

FFMT hosts an annual conference and offers mentoring and pre-professional development for scholarship recipients. FFMT Executive Director Michael Bowie said such training helps foster an understanding and acceptance in today’s students that the world, and Florida in particular, is becoming more diverse every day.

“Having diverse teachers is important for everybody – it shapes us,” he said. “If children don’t see themselves reflected in the classroom, the psychological effect of that is not being able to think ‘I can do that too.’”

In fact, current scholarship recipient Shayla C. Davis, an African-American UF senior studying elementary education, has been able to see the effects of having a minority teacher in the classroom.

“The students begin to look forward to seeing you and you begin to realize how great of an impact you make on their education,” said Davis, an intern at Williston Elementary School.

One third-grade girl of a minority background once approached Davis and said, “Miss Davis, I want to be a teacher just like you.”

“That just shows how much students are watching you, and how much of a difference you make by just being there for them,” Davis said. “They just appreciate interacting with someone who looks like them.”

Originally, FFMT was able to offer the scholarship to 700 minority students in the state each year. However, due to millions of dollars in state budget cuts, FFMT can now only aid about 250 prospective teachers.

Since the program’s inception, FFMT has produced more than 3,500 teachers in Florida’s public schools, according to Bowie. He said about 80 percent of scholars remain in teaching or administrative positions at these schools after the two or three years required for the scholarship.

“It‘s a win-win situation for the state,” Bowie said. “This program has demonstrated its success.”

Applicants must be a Florida resident of junior standing in an approved teacher education program at a college in the state. Apply online at ffmt.org.


CONTACTS
SOURCE: Michael Bowie, executive director of the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers, mbowie@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4367
WRITER: Alexa Lopez, new media coordinator, news and communications, UF College of Education; aklopez@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4449

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