Grant to train black, Latino science teachers for Chicago

Maria Varelas

Maria Varelas, UIC professor of science education. Photo: UIC Photo Services

Science teachers of color are underrepresented in Chicago schools, say education researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago who will use a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to train African-American and Latino science teachers for Chicago public high schools.

Science teachers in urban schools are more likely to resign, and often cite student discipline, salary, and lack of content-specific professional development as reasons, says Maria Varelas, professor of science education at UIC and principal investigator on the grant.

The percentage of Chicago Public Schools teachers who are African American has dropped from 40 percent in 2012 to less than 25 percent today.  The percentage of Latino CPS teachers has grown slightly, but not nearly as rapidly as Chicago’s Latino population, the researchers said.

“Teachers who understand the experience of marginalization are more likely to relate to students in affirming ways,” said former CPS science teacher Danny Morales-Doyle, who is a visiting clinical lecturer at UIC and a co-principal investigator on the grant.

Carole Mitchener

Carole Mitchener, UIC College of Education associate dean of academic affairs. Photo: UIC Photo Services

The so-called STEM fields are “critical” according to Carole Mitchener, associate dean of academic affairs in the UIC College of Education, “because African Americans and Latinos are so underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math, and we’re perpetuating the cycle unless students see black and brown professionals succeeding.”

The six-year Project SEEEC — Science Education for Excellence and Equity in Chicago — will draw on UIC’s graduate programs in science education, its longstanding partnership with CPS, and collaboration with UIC science faculty.

Thirty recent science graduates around the U.S. will be recruited as fellows into UIC’s master’s program in science education. Each fellow will receive a tuition waiver and an annual stipend of $10,000 during  their master’s program and during four years of teaching in CPS immediately thereafter.

They will be trained in part by 10 master fellows — current CPS high school science teachers who hold master’s degrees. The master fellows will pursue doctorates in science education at UIC, also receiving stipends and tuition waivers in exchange for continuing to teach in CPS for five years.

Danny Morales-Doyle, co-principal investigator.

Danny Morales-Doyle, co-principal investigator.

In addition to courses and field experiences, Project SEEEC fellows will attend workshops led by nonprofits like the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the Chicago Botanic Garden, Friends of the Chicago River, and Project SYNCERE that will help the fellows understand science and environmental issues specific to black and Latino neighborhoods.

Workshops by other nonprofits will address positive means of student discipline.

“The Institute for Latino Progress, Freedom School and Project NIA are not focused on science, but they promote the restorative justice model for discipline, which teachers can use as a tool to manage a classroom,” Varelas said. Restorative justice is defined by the researchers as allowing a student who has disrupted a class to restore whatever damage has been done, thus keeping the student in class and engaged in community-building.

Other co-principal investigators on Project SEEEC are Mitchener and her UIC colleagues Aixa Alfonso, associate professor of biological sciences; Randall Espinoza, assistant clinical professor of physics; Roy Plotnick, professor of earth and environmental sciences; and Mike Stieff, associate professor of chemistry; and CPS director of science Chandra James.

Project SEEEC’s first class will begin in May 2015. Applications will be accepted through Feb. 1.