“Town-Gown” Partnership Aims to Improve Urban Education

There is a teacher shortage in U.S. schools, especially in urban schools. It’s a multi-faceted problem that Penn State Behrend is working to mitigate locally through The Mirror Project, an initiative that would address the shortage from several angles, including reducing financial barriers to college for would-be teachers, preparing education majors to teach in urban schools, and increasing minority teachers so that the population of teachers more closely mirrors the population of students.

“Teachers who look like their students serve as role models and mentors, help students learn more and dream higher, and reduce dropout rates,” said Dr. Eric Corty, director emeritus of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and professor emeritus of psychology, who spearheaded The Mirror Project.

In Erie’s Public Schools, where 34 percent of the students are black, only 3 percent of the teachers are black. There is only a 10 percent chance that any child will have a non-white teacher during his or her elementary years in Erie’s public school system.

In addition to growing the number of minority teachers, The Mirror Project aims to increase the number of urban students who are prepared to attend college by making changes to the Elementary and Early Childhood Education (EECE) program offered at Behrend.

Among the changes is a proposed Urban Education certificate that would provide EECE and Secondary Education in Mathematics majors with the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the cultural, historical, political, and sociological foundations of urban education and focus on best practices to support learners in an urban environment.

“Course options will explore topics such as utilizing trauma-informed teaching practices, serving culturally and linguistically diverse learners, and addressing sociological factors that influence urban education in the classroom,” said Dr. Michelle Cook, assistant professor of special education. “Though the certificate is still in development, we hope to offer it to our students at Behrend soon.”

Over time, as these students assume teaching positions in urban schools, the long-term outcomes of their students can be expected to improve,” Cook said.

“This change will not take place quickly,” Corty said, “but, like compound interest, it will be real, meaningful, and lasting. Erie and Penn State Behrend can stand together as an example of how a town-gown partnership can make a real difference in the futures of both.”

The Mirror Project seeks to cover the full cost of tuition at Behrend for an Erie Public School student who will be an EECE major. Corty has offered to match contributions up to $250,000 to The Mirror Project endowment. If you wish to contribute, contact Development and Alumni Relations. For more information on the project, contact Dr. Michelle Cook.