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National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes addresses the Virginia Education Association's Teachers of Color Summit. (Photo by Cole Smith)
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James Fedderman (left), vice president of the VEA, hands out door prizes. VEA President Jim Livingston is behind the podium. (Photo by Cole Smith)
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Attendees applaud as National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes takes the stage. (Photo by Cole Smith)
Educators from across Virginia are in town for the inaugural Teachers of Color Summit to talk about the need for more minority teachers in the state’s public school classrooms.
The event runs through Saturday and is being hosted by the Virginia Education Association. The VEA also happens to be celebrating its 50-year anniversary of merging with the Virginia Teachers Association, a predominantly black organization with similar interests. VEA President Jim Livingston began Friday’s events by addressing the predominantly African-American crowd.
“If you are a public school employee, you need to join us,” he said. “The greatest work that we do has the most direct impact on our students, and that is advocating for the professionals that each of you are.”
One of those professionals attending the summit is Sonia Smith, a teacher at Meadowbrook High School in Chesterfield County. In 2016, minority enrollment there accounted for 91 percent of the school’s student population and 62 percent were African-American, according to U.S. News and World Report.
“When you look at Chesterfield County as a whole, Meadowbrook actually has the largest concentration of teachers of color,” Smith said in an interview, without offering specific numbers. “But it’s still not enough. We have far more black and Latino students who are represented in the student population, and the faculty is not [in proportion] with the numbers.”
Jesscia White, an African-American student at Meadowbrook, echoed Smith’s comments, adding that she hopes to be a teacher some day. She says she is considering a historically black college or university and feels that opportunities given to her at Meadowbrook are not equal to those her white peers receive. This, the VEA says, is one of the issues the organization hopes to solve: getting colleges to recruit diverse students into teaching and supporting them throughout their time in college.
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden also spoke briefly at the event, welcoming those who, he says, are on the front lines of the education system in Virginia.
“You probably don’t hear it enough, but if someone hasn’t told you, you’re national security,” Bedden said to the crowd of over 200 teachers and administrators. “You are the backbone of America.”
Friday morning’s keynote speaker was Jahana Hayes, the 2016 national teacher of the year. Hayes, a high school history teacher from Connecticut, says her desire for more minority teachers began during her time in elementary school.
“There are so many conversations that never took place because of my teachers,” Hayes says. “I had amazing teachers, all of them white teachers who couldn’t have loved me more if I was their own. But they didn’t have the words to have the conversations with me that I needed to have. Those are the intangibles that data doesn’t talk about.”