Educators Lead Minority Students into Teaching Program Prepares College Students for Graduate School and Rewarding Careers

Article excerpt

Cleo Syph knows what it's like to be a young black male attending schools where all the teachers are white and a majority are women. As a boy in Toledo, Ohio, he had to wait until seventh grade for a male teacher. And not until he entered the University of Dayton three years ago did he ever have a black teacher.

That lack of minority role models in education, combined with his love of learning, shaped Mr. Syph's decision to become a teacher. And it brought him to Phillips Academy here this month for a four-week academic "boot camp" that prepares 30 top-ranking minority college students for graduate school and teaching careers.

"I had one teacher who turned my life around," says Syph, a college senior. "If he could do that for me, I'd like to do the same for somebody else."

That goal will become more important as minority students increase. Only 8 percent of public school teachers are black and 3 percent are Latino, according to the Department of Education. By the end of the decade, minorities will account for 40 percent of American students but only 13 percent of teachers, says Kelly Wise, director of the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers and founder of the boot camp.

The rigorous program, started in 1990, emphasizes critical thinking and writing. It features lectures, seminars, debates, and presentations by educators, art historians, poets, cinematographers, and artists. Only 1 applicant in 8 is accepted.

The idea for a boot camp came when Mr. Wise was dean of faculty at Phillips Academy flying around the country to recruit outstanding minority instructors for the prep school. "I realized how very shallow the pool of applicants was," he says. "It seemed to me universities and schools were fighting for the same few folks."

To increase that minority pool, he established the program with $80,000 from Phillips Academy. This year foundations and corporations have donated $660,000. Students receive air fare and a stipend. A consortium of universities recruits graduates and gives financial aid for graduate school.

On a rainy Monday morning, half the group gathered in a classroom to analyze an essay on apartheid in South Africa with faculty member Clement White, who teaches Latin American literature at the University of Rhode Island. Across campus, other students discussed an article on Puerto Rican nationalism with Rafael Perez-Torres, professor of Chicano studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. …