Dinner Benefits ‘African American Teaching Fellows’

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Hundreds celebrated the legacy of an African-American pillar in the education community at the third annual John E. Baker Legacy Dinner. The dinner honors those who are following in the footsteps of Baker, one of the founders of the African American Teaching Fellows of Charlottesville-Albemarle, but the event also sheds light on the need for more diversity in area schools.

Two local leaders in education were honored at the dinner Friday night: Juandiego Wade, who chairs the Charlottesville City School Board, and Eugene Williams, who was a highly important leader in the desegregation of local schools.

These days, Albemarle County and Charlottesville schools are working to expand the number of African-American teachers in their divisions.

"We do not have a diverse teaching staff so having African-American fellow in our school was wonderful," said Kimberly Cousins, principal of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School.

Out of more than 2,000 teachers in both the city and county, fewer than 150 are African-American. In Charlottesville, 46 percent of the students are black but only 15 percent of the teachers are. In Albemarle County, 15 percent of the students are black while only about 7 percent of the teachers are. AATF aims to close those gaps.

"If you've had exclusively one type of teacher and that type of teacher doesn't look like you, then you have a teacher that does look like you, I think the impact can be profound," said Scott Guggenheimer, executive director of the AATF.

Teacher fellows are financially supported by AATF as they earn teaching certification, and in turn commit to spending an equal amount of time teaching in Charlottesville or Albemarle. This year the dinner raised enough money to support five fellows in 2014, who Cousins and Guggenheimer say will serve as examples, not just to black students, but to the entire student body.

"The students that do go there, it's important that they be able to identify with a teacher, a leader, someone that's a positive role model," Cousins said.

"Not only for the African-American students for whom an African-American teacher can change their lives but for all of the students in our school system," Guggenheimer said.

There are currently 13 African-American fellows teaching in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Ten more are still in school but have already committed to teaching in the area.