Melvin Stewart is somewhat of an anomaly.
He’s a student, football player and a track athlete at Livingstone College. But by day, he is a teacher.
Steward is an apprentice teacher at the Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Elementary School in Salisbury – an African-American male teacher, who aspires to have his own fifth-grade classroom one day.
According to state data, there is an underrepresentation of minority teachers relative to the proportion of minority students. In Rowan County, nine percent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ teachers are African-American compared to 18 percent African-American students.
Nationwide, black teachers make up less than 7 percent of the teaching force, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Emerging evidence suggests that a diverse teaching force has the potential to help minority students attain greater educational success.
Livingstone College is heeding the call to this local and national concern, which is why the HBCU recently launched an initiative offering every new student who chooses a major in a Teacher Education program a grant-in-aid, meaning their education will be free after federal financial aid is considered.
The college is also taking its response a step further in its own back yard. The apprenticeship afforded to Stewart, who is a senior elementary education major from Columbia, SC, was made possible through a new partnership between the college and Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
The program, called Accelerate Rowan Lab School (ARLS) at Elizabeth Duncan Koontz, is dedicated to addressing the needs of children from diverse backgrounds in a safe and nurturing environment, said Dr. Tarsha Winston Reid, interim dean of education, psychology and social work, and teacher education coordinator at Livingstone College.
The teacher education partnership fosters collaboration, where all educators can aspire to become their best while being part of a caring community of learners-students, teachers, staff and families. It is intended to promote innovation and excellence in education through collaboration, research, outreach, teaching and learning.
ARLS offers two internships for students. The pre-apprentice teacher is designed for junior education majors, and offers part-time flexible scheduling; site-based instruction; opportunities for active learning; observing (10 hours); and learning from master teachers and co-teaching partners. These students will receive $2,500 per semester.
The apprentice teacher is for senior education majors enrolled in an education program or in the final year of a MAT program. This 10-month program consist of a 30 hours per week work schedule and a $20,000 stipend for the current year. This scholarship requires a two-year commitment to Rowan-Salisbury Schools, and recipients must meet all qualifications/terms for the state of North Carolina.
Stewart is the first and only candidate from Livingstone in the inaugural partnership, but Reid said interest is growing.
“We expect to have more participants in fall 2022,” Reid said. The ARLS program director has requested to include juniors for the spring 2022 semester and two Livingstone students have met qualifications for that deadline.
“I have been blessed with an amazing opportunity to teach fifth grade,” Stewart said.” I have been placed in front of several well-experienced educators that drop daily gems on how to become better equipped to impact these students learning in a positive manner.”
“My goal in this program is to take away as much knowledge, advice and wisdom as possible from these community leaders around me, and to follow in their steps toward developing my own effective teaching style. Koontz has been an accelerated learning environment in which I receive exceptional constructive criticism. I am handed more and more responsibility every day, furthermore progressing my educational expertise,” he said.
Stewart’s daily duties include participating in large and small reading and math groups, where he focuses his attention to the specified needs of students learning at different paces. He is also responsible for logging and filing student information, and helping guide students’ thought-processes on a path to success.
“I wish to continue teaching in fifth grade as I feel I can build a strong connection with my students as we prepare them for middle school,” Stewart said. “Some of the best moments on this job have come from earning students’ trust and helping them gain confidence in their way of thinking when approaching different mental obstacles.”
He credits his courses at Livingstone for having already helped prepare him mentally for the challenges faced in a classroom environment, and with the help of the lab school program, he is learning more effective methods of teaching.
“During my career, I wish to expand my knowledge of more efficient teaching methods, and to add greater impact to my lessons and interactions with students. I believe that I can make a difference in the quality of students’ learning, and with enough experience, I can substantially enhance that quality,” he said.
Of the Lab School, Stewart said it is clear that this program was designed to produce strong teachers by giving scholars a strong foundation of knowledge and experience to start a teaching career.
“It has been a truly amazing experience and I hope this program continues to give others this opportunity,” he said.
Coincidently, Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Elementary School is named after a Livingstone College alumna, who became a national figure in education as the first African-American president of the National Education Association and director of the United States Department of Labor Women’s Bureau.
“I am excited to have this partnership between the Livingstone College Department of Education and Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Elementary School Lab School,” Reid said. “Not only are we better preparing future educators through classroom experience, but we are also continuing the legacy of one of Livingstone College’s esteemed alumni and honorary degree recipients in that of Elizabeth Duncan Koontz.”
About Livingstone College
Livingstone College is a private historically black college that is secured by a strong commitment to quality instruction, academic excellence and student success. Through a Christian-based environment suitable for holistic learning, Livingstone provides excellent business, liberal arts, STEAM, teacher education and workforce development programs for students from all ethnic backgrounds designed to promote lifelong learning, and to develop student potential for leadership and service to a global community. For more information, visit www.livingstone.edu.