Philly-based program aims to increase number of Black male teachers across the United States

"Less than 2% of public school teachers across this country are Black men," said a man who's working hard to change that.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- To walk down the halls of Mastery Shoemaker Charter School with Sharif El-Mekki is like walking with a rock star. Everyone knows who he is, and everyone loves him.

"El-Mekki!" shouted Mastery Shoemaker 12th grader Malachi Roseborough as he sees the veteran educator of 26 years walking near the front office.

"You can't just not like El-Mekki. I don't know who don't like him," said Roseborough of El-Mekki, who spent 11 years as the school's principal.

His former students think he's one in a million. Indeed, statistically, he's one in a few.

"Less than 2% of public school teachers across this country are Black men," said El- Mekki.

It's the reason he left the job he loves so much to form an organization that the nation needs. El-Mekki founded The Center for Black Educator Development of which he is now CEO.

In 2019, the non-profit created an innovative program to meet its goal of diversifying classrooms.

"One of our big goals is to build a national Black teacher pipeline," said El-Mekki, who says that having more African American teachers can result in better grades and less disciplinary action for African American children.

"His goal is to bring about 21,000 students into the pipeline and produce about 9,000 Black teachers," said Johann Calhoun, bureau chief of Chalkbeat Philadelphia, a non-profit news outlet.

The pipeline program caught Calhoun's eye as it fell in line with one of Chalkbeat's core missions.

"Monitoring race and diversity and how it fits in the classroom is part of Chalkbeat's mission in covering schools," he said.

Three years after its inception, the program has now named its inaugural class of college fellowship recipients. The pipeline provides college scholarships and paid apprenticeships for college students and high schoolers who enroll in the program which can last as long as 12 years.

"Four years of high school... continuing through college, and then the first four years of their teaching career," said El-Mekki.

The program focuses on effective ways to teach children of color, which can have a big impact alongside the presence of an African American man as a teacher.

"Black boys may go through their entire 13 years of K-12 experiences and never have a Black man as a teacher. Never see a Black man as a teacher," said El-Mekki, who adds that future and current teachers who are not people of color have also participated in the program in order to get a better understanding of the framework for teaching African American children.

A Black child with a single Black teacher could be up to 39% less likely to drop out of school, he added. And if they have two, 32% more likely to go to college.

The first class of fellows is made up of four Black male college students. All of them are from Philadelphia.

"They reached out to me to apply for this scholarship," recalled Imere Williams of starting the pipeline in high school.

He's now a sophomore at West Chester University, receiving help paying for his education through the scholarship he received from The Center for Black Educator Development.

"When I graduate, I plan to go back to Philadelphia," he said. "Just start my career, have my own classroom, my own group of students."

If Williams and others do end up teaching, there could soon be more Black male educators walking the halls just like El-Mekki used to... getting the "rock star treatment" from students whose lives they've changed.

"We as a collective can definitely make a difference," he said.

The pipeline wants to expand into ten more cities in the next ten years.

The Center for Black Educator Development is accepting applications from college students in the greater Philadelphia area for scholarships and paid apprenticeships.

They're also accepting applications from high schoolers and college students in the greater Philadelphia area for paid apprenticeships. The apprenticeships involve teaching after school and in the summer for Freedom School Literacy Academy.

High School students and college students area are eligible to apply to teach 1st-3rd graders in the program, which is also accepting applications from families of elementary schoolers who wish to enroll in the school both in-person for local children and remotely for children outside the greater Philadelphia area.

For more information on applying for the teacher pipeline or as 1st -3rd grade student for Freedom School Literacy Academy, click here:
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