Indiana University of Pennsylvania will be working on a project designed to expand educator diversity through a $50,000 planning grant from the McElhattan Foundation.

The project, Diversity in Education through Expanding Partnerships (Project DEEP), is a collaboration between IUP, Community College of Allegheny County, and a Pittsburgh parent group.

Lara Luetkehans, dean of IUP’s College of Education and Communications, together with team members from IUP including Kaitlyn Brennan, Emily Wender, and Dan Wissinger, wrote the proposal.

The overarching goal of Project DEEP is to create a P20 community of educators that is situated to address barriers and provide multiple pathways for developing teachers that are more representative of the communities they serve, Luetkehans said. 

“A P20 community of educators includes aspiring teachers, teacher candidates enrolled in a certification program, practicing teachers, and teacher education faculty working together to teach and learn with the communities they serve,” she said.

“By supporting a developing teacher at all points across their career, we hope to recruit and retain more Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) teachers,” Luetkehans said. “Expanding educator diversity is a complex problem with significant implications for the learning of students at all levels, and creating this complex ecosystem of teacher development requires strong relationships and a shared vision among the stakeholders.”

“The McElhattan Foundation believes that expanding educator diversity within learning environments
helps students to thrive,” said Gina Evans, program officer for the McElhattan Foundation. “We are pleased to support IUP’s partnership-focused planning effort to develop lasting strategies to expand diversity within its teacher preparation programs.”

According to Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based, nonprofit education research organization, in 2019–20, 50 percent of Pennsylvania’s public schools and 37 percent of all school districts employed only white teachers. There were 138 school districts and 1,078 of Pennsylvania’s public schools that had no BIPOC teachers over any of the last seven school years. In these schools, an average of 15 percent of students were BIPOC students.

Project DEEP proposes to build this foundation with two initiatives: hosting a series of Listening and Envisioning Workshops to investigate and build a deeper understanding of the barriers that limit equitable access to teacher preparation for BIPOC teacher candidates; and creating the blueprints for a community-based Parent University (ParentU), a key component of a P20 Community of Educators.

ParentU will work to empower families as partners, advocates, and educators. Family members will be recruited to participate in paraprofessional/teacher training through CCAC or pursue certification through one of IUP’s educator preparation programs. 

As part of the process, project leaders will work to strengthen partnerships with Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and establish a new partnership with Lincoln University. Cheyney University was the first of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities; HBCUs are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African American community. Cheyney and Lincoln are Pennsylvania’s two HBCUs.

“Team members will be initiating faculty-to-faculty collaborations with educator preparation and related majors at both institutions to discuss certification options for their students at IUP,” Luetkehans said. “Based on these conversations, we plan to visit Lincoln and Cheyney to foster interest in the teaching profession, share certification options at IUP, and determine potential concerns and barriers for existing Lincoln and Cheyney students.”

Team members will offer a series of workshop events with a number of groups, including graduated teacher candidates and non-graduated BIPOC teacher candidates at IUP and CCAC, and with community members who may be interested in programming through Parent University. These Listening and Envisioning Workshops are designed to provide a foundation for the development and early pilot of ParentU.

In-person sessions are planned for IUP, at CCAC, and at a Pittsburgh area community center. Virtual sessions are also planned. To prepare for the workshops, the team members will conduct an analysis of existing data for students at IUP and CCAC who completed their studies and for those students who did not complete their studies.

“These workshops will be focused on more precisely determining the barriers our BIPOC candidates face and identify key supports,” Luetkehans said. “We also aim to encourage BIPOC candidates to imagine themselves as future teachers or teacher leaders, to reflect on their own motivations for wanting to join the profession, and to consider the unique ways they may be positioned to positively impact young people. Finally, in reaching out to our BIPOC graduates, we also hope to establish relationships with BIPOC teacher-mentors for supporting BIPOC teacher candidates in the future.”

“This planning grant allows us to be more systematic and inclusive in addressing the dire educator shortage and lack of educator diversity across the Pittsburgh region,” Luetkehans said.