Education department works to diversity field

Hailey Steidle, Staff writer

In recent years it has become more apparent that the field of education is incredibly dominated by specific types of individuals.

In 2021, the national average ethnicity for teachers in the United States was over 68% Caucasian, 12.9% Hispanic and 10.1% African American.

These statistics make it shockingly clear that the national averages for the education field have staggering disparities, most notably when it comes to teachers’ ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and linguistic backgrounds.

Mercyhurst University has recently taken a major step towards changing these statistics as they introduced the NextGen814 initiative headed by the university’s Education Department.

This initiative aims to increase the total number of teacher candidates within the Erie area and beyond who are going to increase representation within schools for generations to come.

The NextGen814 initiative was founded in February as Mercyhurst began the process of partnering with the Erie School District to recruit seven high school students of color from Erie High School who were interested in the field of education and teaching.

The seven students selected to participate in the initiative lacked the access and support needed in order to pursue higher education. Mercyhurst’s goal with founding this initiative was to allow for these students to have an innovative route to the teaching profession.

Because of this reason the program was able to earn top funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Innovative Teacher Prep2Practice Grant Program, with a total of $100,000 in funding.

After earning this fund, the initiative now has the ability to help future students who may want to participate in this program as well.

The program is set to begin this upcoming summer as students will participate in a paid internship as well as taking 6 credits

worth of pre-college teaching preparation courses. The internship portion of the initiative will consist of members of the groups acting as assistants to teachers within Mercyhurst’s Carpe Diem Academy.

They will be assisting at summer enrichment programs that are located throughout the Erie community for grades kindergarten to second grade.

A selection of pre-service teachers within the Mercyhurst Education Department and teachers of color from the Erie County School District will take part in acting as mentors for members of the initiative.

The length of the program depends on the participants grade as the support will last through the participant’s senior year.

Susan Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of Education at Mercyhurst and Amy Baushard, a Mercyhurst Education department faculty member began to create this program after they saw a need in the local community for inclusion within the education field.

A large majority of individuals who want to pursue the field of education will never be given the chance due to their backgrounds and it is becoming increasingly clearer within the field as most of the world is calling for inclusion in all fields.

By starting this initiative, the Mercyhurst Department of Education is changing the way that Erie treats the education field and how educators look within the community for generations to come.

Diversity and representation has been a topic on the rise in the past ten years, and rightfully so.

It is so important to learn from other perspectives; otherwise, there would be no progress in anything.

This is especially true in education, because learning from a diverse set of teachers will expose students to different groups of people early on in life.

Exposure to different cultures and groups early on in life reduces the risk of that person developing prejudiced opinions, since many times prejudice comes from a lack of exposure.

If you are not exposed to different groups of people and different cultures, then you will be going strictly off of what you hear on the news, stereotypes, or what is shown on social media, which does not always give the full picture.

Many people have skewed perceptions of diversity in general, so it is important to educate yourself on topics like this one to avoid speaking ignorantly on the subject.

If you are an undecided major or if you are interested in pursuing a master’s in education, feel free to speak with anyone in the education department at Mercyhurst.

Becoming an educator today is a great thing to pursue, and the country is facing an educator shortage after recovering from the pandemic.

Many schools had to let go of many of their teachers due to the economic difficulties that came with COVID, so this is a job in high demand currently.

Overall, teachers have the opportunity to shape the next generation which is why diversifying will be crucial in coming years.