New Jersey Education Association Supports Program at William Paterson University That Aims to Diversify the Teacher Workforce

The NJEA's Jaime Valente and Steve Beatty with Dean Amy Ginsberg and Professor David Fuentes

Officials from the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), a union representing more than 200,000 public school employees across the state, visited William Paterson University this week to meet area high school students in our Aspiring Educators Program. During the meeting, NJEA Vice President Steve Beatty presented a check for $15,000 to WP College of Education Dean Amy Ginsberg, with a commitment for another $15,000—funds that will go directly to the students.

Developed and directed by the College of Education, the Aspiring Educators Program aims to diversify the state’s teaching workforce through a partnership with high school students from underrepresented backgrounds—rising juniors and seniors who are interested in teaching as a profession.

While approximately 60 percent of children in New Jersey’s public schools come from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, 83 percent of teachers in the state are white, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.

“There is no more important job than that of being an educator, and there is no more satisfying job,” Beatty told the students, noting the equally important job of finding and supporting “our next generation of colleagues.”

Students in the program complete a college course taught on campus by professor of teacher education David Fuentes, a published researcher on issues of diversity and equity in education. Karla Lopez Tapia, a current undergraduate teacher candidate from Paterson, serves as a course assistant. Tuition for the course, for which the high school students earn three University credits, is covered by the partner school districts and a state-funded minority teacher development grant.

After their mornings in class, students in the Aspiring Educators Program spend their afternoons working on campus as instructors in WP’s Summer Youth Program—providing them both a stipend and valuable, relevant experience teaching children.

Throughout the first several weeks of their summer course on campus, students are challenged to engage in activities fostering social-emotional learning, with explorations to help them better understand themselves and their diverse classmates. The ultimate goal is to help the high school students develop the skills to understand and empathize with all kinds of children in the future, as their teachers, Fuentes explains.

“Sharing about our own school districts and our own lives has been very impactful,” said Kimberly from Passaic High School, a sentiment shared by almost every student in the room.

This summer, 18 high school students from Clifton, Hawthorne, Passaic, Paterson, and Passaic County Technical Institute are taking part in the program, which first launched as a pilot program last year, with 12 students. 

Not only hearing about others’ experiences, but also “meeting people who don’t let adversity define them” were among the greatest takeaways for Ajanae, a student from Passaic County Technical Institute. 

“I now have more confidence in myself,” added Aidan, a student from Hawthorne High School. “Being able to speak out loud has been a real journey. I’ll keep working on it, but this has got me going.”

Jaime Valente, NJEA membership manager, asked the students to recall the first time they had a teacher in which they saw themselves—someone with whom they could identify. Many students in the room reported that they have yet to meet a teacher they identify with, and several said they hadn’t met one until they were in high school.

“People change your opinions, change your mind, change your heart,” Valente said, in discussing the importance of New Jersey’s public school students being exposed to diverse educators. He was subsequently “inspired” by the students in our program, he added.

“There is nothing more sacred to people than their children,” Professor Fuentes told the students. “I am grateful that my children will have teachers like you.”