By Emily Rosenberg Associate Editor
This fall, Framingham State launched its first teacher residency program with Framingham Public Schools, supported by a three-year AmeriCorps grant of approximately $1.7 million.
The initiative is one of only four new AmeriCorps programs in Massachusetts, according to English Professor Kelly Matthews, one of the authors of the grant.
The teacher residency program places students seeking secondary education licensure in Massachusetts in either Framingham’s Cameron Middle School or Fuller Middle School to work with a teacher mentor and develop teaching skills over the course of the entire school year - five days a week for the full school day.
Anyone interested in obtaining secondary education licensure is welcome to apply through the Framingham Public Schools’ website and does not have to be a student at FSU.
After completing the residency, teacher residents will be qualified for a three-year contract with Framingham Public Schools.
The goal of the program is to help diversify the staff of Framingham Public Schools and encourage more BIPOC students to pursue education, especially in STEM fields, Wardell Powell, education professor and interim diversity and inclusion officer, said.
Powell was the other co-author of the grant.
A large percentage of Framingham Public Schools’ students are bilingual and their primary language is Spanish or Portuguese, Powell said.
There are not enough bilingual or BIPOC teachers to meet their needs, he added.
The University first received a $75,000 AmeriCorps planning grant in 2021 to prepare for the program. The process included assistance from the The National Center for Teacher Residencies, including weekly “full-day meetings,” Matthews said.
The National Center for Teacher Residencies is the only nonprofit organization dedicated to “accelerating and supporting” teacher residencies, with a commitment to addressing systemic inequities in school systems, according to its website.
Matthews and Powell started writing the grant in October 2020. They now co-manage the grant and are directors of the program. Powell said in 2020, they were looking for ways to partner with Framingham Public Schools and fulfill their need for more bilingual teachers while also advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion opportunities for education at FSU. That’s when they decided they would need to apply for a grant.
“It's a wonderful opportunity first for the students in Framingham Public Schools, to be able to have more and more teachers who speak their language - more and more teachers who look like them. But also, I think that it's a wonderful opportunity for Framingham State University teacher candidates,” Powell said.
Since the grant was only awarded toward the end of August, there was only time to recruit 10 residents this year - all undergraduate, graduate, and post-baccalaureate teacher licensure students. The goal is to expand the number of residents to 20 for the next academic year, Matthews said.
The grant provides funds to pay teacher residents, who receive a stipend of $26,300, Matthews said.
Framingham State and Framingham Public Schools are also required to match the funds, as the grant only covers 46% of the cost of the materials for the program, Matthews added.
Powell said unlike traditional unpaid full-time student teaching experiences, this allows the program to be more accessible to those who cannot afford to student-teach full time without compensation.
“That's where I think the opportunity lies for a lot of our students. So even if they’re not an education major, this program is right for them because the program will help to cover their expenses for their education courses,” he said.
He added this factor will draw bilingual and multilingual students from STEM fields into the teaching workforce who did not originally view gaining teacher licensure as an option.
James Cressey, chair of the Education Department, said the program advances the Education Department’s mission of promoting social justice by bringing more diverse faculty to the teacher workforce.
He added it has been helpful in financially supporting several of their undergraduate students in the form of tuition benefits, and that makes the opportunity “amazing.
“We've heard from students - and we know that it is - that it's hard to go for a semester without working for students who are paying their way through school.”
He said he has received emails from students expressing interest in completing the residency in different licensure areas, and that there is interest from Framingham Public Schools and FSU in expanding the program in years to come.
Cressey added, given its relationship with other schools in the MetroWest area, something FSU may also want to explore is expanding the residency to other districts.
Everton Vargas Da Costa, Framingham teacher residency director of operations, said, “I think we are taking a very important step to be more intentional in terms of how to recruit future teachers that the district really needs.”
He said though the need for more multilingual and bilingual teachers in the district was evident, there were not actual steps being taken to hire them. The program is a way to “solidify the work” of diversifying faculty, he said.
He added being a person who has been involved in the program since the beginning, working with FSU has been a “great experience.”
Framingham State was recognized at a ceremony by Framingham Public Schools with a “Community Partner Appreciation Celebration” honor on Oct. 3 for building a strong bond through efforts such as the residency program, Vargas Da Costa said.
“We can only see this growing in the coming years,” he said, noting the goal is to add the Framingham middle school that is not yet part of the program, Washington Middle School, which just implemented a dual-language program into its curriculum.
He said that through the partnership, Framingham Public Schools and Framingham State are making a “great effort to invest in a future generation of multilingual citizens. “This is a great message I think that Framingham is sending to the whole state of Massachusetts - that we value the languages and we value the cultures that inhabit our city.”
Michelle Melick, Principal of Cameron Middle School, said a great benefit of the program is having five additional committed staff members involved in the school community.
She added it also helps students to have two teachers in the classroom because if a student doesn’t necessarily form a positive connection with a teacher, they may be able to connect to the student teacher.
Kerry Wood, Principal of Fuller Middle School, said at her school, it has been a consistent struggle to find candidates to match their need for Portuguese and Spanish-speaking teachers.
She said there are transitional bilingual educational programs in which students learn subjects in either Spanish or Portuguese, and finding licensed native Portuguese and Spanish speakers is rare. Therefore, by investing in teacher residents, they are also investing in the welfare of the school.
“Having a multilingual person within the school allows students and families to gain a closer bond with the school because then there's more people that understand them that they can go to when they have questions or they have concerns,” she said.
Wood added, “It also creates familiarity for our community and for the students when they walk into a classroom and maybe their primary teacher speaks only English, but there is another teacher in the room who speaks Portuguese or Spanish. There, it does create a relationship where they feel supported.”
Cameron Howe, an undergraduate teacher resident, said being placed at a middle school since the first day makes it a lot easier to form connections with students.
He said sometimes when a student teacher is placed in a program halfway through the year, the children are confused as to why they’re there “taking notes in the back of the classroom.
“If you’re there from the first day, the kids are acclimated to you,” he said. “The kids will be more responsive to you.”
He said during his time in the residency, he’s been slowly taking over lesson plans.
He said he is not proficient in Spanish or Portuguese, which initially discouraged him from applying for the program, but working with the students is encouraging him to more frequently practice the languages.
When an English language learner is in a classroom where a teacher is only speaking English, they have a tendency to “shut down and not participate,” he said. “Having someone else in the room who does understand them - I feel like that motivates them even more to keep going with their education.”
Samantha Stanfinski, an undergraduate teacher resident, is also not fully fluent in Spanish or Portuguese, but said since entering college, through her secondary education courses, she has gained a passion for equity in education and making sure English language learners are truly receiving the education they need.
She said as an English speaker, there is always a way to help non-English speakers understand what is being taught through different mediums such as drawing, reading, and hand gestures.
Coming into the program, she said she always wanted to work with a diverse group of students and “face her fears” by speaking Spanish in front of people for the first time.
Jarred Landers, an undergraduate teacher resident, said “I feel like I’m learning something new about teaching every single day.”
He said he has already led several classes, and his mentor feels comfortable leaving the classroom while he is teaching lessons.
Landers added working with his mentor is a great experience as he has a wide range of culturally responsive teaching knowledge. He is also learning from teachers with whom he is not directly paired.
Landers encouraged future teacher residents to get involved with the classroom right away. “If you're anxious about being in front of a classroom for the first time, after the first time you do it, it gets easier every time.”
Kayla Buono, a teacher resident in the post-baccalaureate teacher licensure program, said the residency is fast paced, but she has had a lot of support from teachers, program directors, coordinators and fellow residents.
She said she encourages future teacher residents to use these same support systems. “The program is about growth. Growth isn’t easy, and these support systems can help.” She added, “There have been many great interactions with students, as well as some challenging ones. It’s the best kind of experience where I get exposed to a variety of students in a variety of situations. This means I get to broadly develop my skill.” Buono said the biggest benefit of the program is that she gets to start her teaching career with a whole year of experience under her belt and would love to give back to Framingham Public Schools next year.
Kristen Porter-Utley, academic vice president and provost, said the program will make for a much richer experience on campus, providing a “cycle of benefit” between Framingham State students and Framingham Public Schools.
She said while those in the program take courses at the University, they will perhaps also be getting students they connect with at their residencies excited about FSU.
She said she had the chance to work with Powell and Matthews on the second day of becoming provost, and she admires how committed they both are to anti-racism, cultural awareness, and supporting all students.
Porter-Utley added, “To me as the new provost, being presented with this project on day two was so fun. It's very heartening. This is what I thought Framingham was like. This project embodies so much of what Framingham State is and what it does for the region.
“This is about Framingham State, but this is also just about the right thing to do in our communities, and working to ensure that students are supported not only here in our region, but across the state of Massachusetts. This will really be a model for other institutions,” Porter-Utley said.