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
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. …